With the musical 'Chicago,' OKC alumnus Katie Frieden brings all that jazz back to Oklahoma (2024)

Brandy McDonnellThe Oklahoman

Since she was a little girl, Katie Frieden has adored all that jazz.

"I grew up in a performing arts dance studio in northern Virginia. ... I always loved jazz — always, always loved jazz, anything jazz, any style of jazz," she recalled.

"They really stressed that it's so important to do a lot of ballet, so you can have that technical foundation. ... I did tap, and I did hip hop and contemporary and lyrical and modern and everything. But my favorite was always jazz."

So, starring as Roxie Hart on the 25th anniversary tour of the iconic musical "Chicago" fits Frieden like a slinky flapper dress.

As her almost two-year run with the Tony Award-winning tale of murder, greed and all that jazz winds down, Frieden is bringing the tour's razzle dazzle to her former Sooner State stomping grounds. A 2021 graduate of Oklahoma City University's Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment, she is leading the tour to OKC for its April 9-14 run at Civic Center Music Hall.

"I've always wanted to perform at the Civic Center. It's going to be emotional for me, for sure. I went to go see shows there when I was in college. I remember I sat up in the nosebleeds watching 'Waitress' because they had student rush tickets. And I was like, 'I really, really, really want to come back and perform here one day,'" she recalled.

What is the musical 'Chicago' about?

An add-on special to OKC Broadway's 2023-24 subscription season, "Chicago" is coming to Oklahoma City for the first time in a decade.

Seen by more than 34 million people worldwide, "Chicago" is the second-longest running show in Broadway history, surpassing the British smash "Cats" in 2014.

The longest-running show currently playing on Broadway, "Chicago" is the work of musical theater legends: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse wrote the book for the show, which boasts music by John Kander, lyrics by Ebb and choreography by Fosse.

Set in the 1920s, "Chicago" follows Roxie Hart (Frieden), a housewife and nightclub dancer who murders her lover after he threatens to leave her. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly (played by Kailin Brown on the national tour), by hiring Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn (Connor Sullivan), to transform her ruthless crime into sensational headlines.

Inspired by true events, "Chicago" was originally a 1926 play by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins. The musical adaptation's original Broadway production bowed in 1975 and starred Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn. It ran for more than 900 performances and was nominated for 11 Tonys, but was shut out by another dance smash, "A Chorus Line."

It was the 1996 Broadway revival that turned "Chicago" into an iconic song-and-dance spectacle.

Starring Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey and Ann Reinking — a Roxie replacement from the original Broadway production who reprised the role and choreographed the show "in the style of Bob Fosse" — it earned six Tonys, including best musical revival.

It's that version of the show, which now holds the record as the longest running American musical in Broadway and West End history, that's being celebrated with the 25th anniversary tour.

Rob Marshall's 2002 movie adaptation also helped cement "Chicago's" place in pop-culture history: Starring Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, it won six Oscars, including best picture.

What makes the musical 'Chicago' so beloved?

Ahead of her anticipated OKC return, Frieden recently chatted with The Oklahoman by phone about what makes the musical "Chicago" so beloved, what she loves about playing Roxie and more:

Q: Why is 'Chicago' your favorite musical?

I grew up watching the movie. But I also went to see the Broadway production when I was in high school with my mom, and I've just always loved the Fosse choreography. We did a lot of Fosse in college with one of our professors, Vincent Sandoval. ... It was always a style that I personally really connected to, just the isolations and the intensity and the artistry of it.

Q: Why do you think 'Chicago' is still so beloved after all this time?

I think people love to see really good dance on stage, which you don't always see in musicals. ... The other thing I think that makes 'Chicago' so lasting is the relevance that it still provides, even now in the 2020s.

It's based off a true story from 100 years ago, was written 50 years ago in the '70s, and then was revived in the '90s. And each time, it has been relevant to the relationship between celebrities and media and how you can manipulate the media. ... In the 1920s, it was newspapers. Now, it's social media.

Q: How did your passion for dance develop?

I started dance classes when I was 4 years old. My mom first put me in it because she said I just couldn't stop moving, and apparently, I actually lied to my preschool teacher that I was in dance class. My preschool teacher said to my mother, 'Oh, I hear Katie's in dance class,' and my mom was like, 'No, she's not.' But I think she knew then that, 'OK, I need to put Katie in dance class.' (laughs)

As long as I can remember that I've been alive, I've been dancing. It's just such a part of who I am. I don't really know how to explain. Dance just fits, and it connects with me. When I hear music, I just want to move, and it feels right. ...

That's what I love about Fosse's choreography is that all the choreography is so entwined with the music. ... I always considered myself a dancer first. But I hadn't realized until doing Roxie that I've been acting my whole life. Through dance, you're always acting, if you're really dancing and not just focused on the technique.

Q: What else have you been up to since you graduated OCU in May 2021?

Right after, I did summer stock in Woodstock, New York, at Woodstock Playhouse, and we did three performances there. But the one show that was really meaningful to me was we did 'Sweet Charity,' where I got to be Charity Hope Valentine, which is another Fosse show and another Gwen Verdon role. ...

After that, I did a Christmas show at the Surflight Theatre in New Jersey. We did 'A Christmas Carol,' where I played Mrs. Cratchit. Then, I was auditioning for a while, and I did this really cool new show that was happening locally in (Washington) D.C. called 'The Bridgerton Experience.'

It was an immersive production based off of the Netflix show 'Bridgerton.' ... I was the performer portrayed after Daphne. So, it was a lot of dancing and balletic movements, with a little bit of acro. (I was) swinging on a chandelier, which I had never done before. ...

I had two days off, and then my contract (with 'Chicago') started. I was fortunate enough to be able to audition during that 'Bridgerton Experience,' and I couldn't believe it when I got Roxie.

Q: What has it meant to be part of the 'Chicago' 25th anniversary tour?

I joined in July of 2022, so it's been almost two years. Last summer, I got to go to Korea with the tour, which was so amazing. We were there for 15 weeks, and I got to perform for a completely different culture. ... It was really incredible. And then I rejoined the tour again, going straight into it for the second year. ...

Every person that's come through the show feels so connected to it and has such deep love for the show. Knowing that I am somehow connected to people like Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Bob Fossey, it's insane to me, because those are my heroes ...

I hope that, one day, I could come back to 'Chicago' again and come back to Roxie and come at it with a new perspective. But I do think I'm ready for a change.

Q: What are your thoughts on coming back to OKC with 'Chicago?'

We end our tour in May, so after Oklahoma City, I think a lot of our stops are the one-nighters or the split weeks. So, Oklahoma City is like our last big engagement. ...

One thing that I always wanted to do: We would always have alumni that were touring around the country who would come through the Civic Center, and they would often come to teach a master class at our school. ... My dream was, 'One day, I want to be in that position. I want to be that person that comes through.'

I can't believe that only three years later that that's happening to me. So, I am going to be teaching a master class and doing a little Q&A with the students at OCU. ... It's definitely a full-circle moment for me.


With the musical 'Chicago,' OKC alumnus Katie Frieden brings all that jazz back to Oklahoma (2024)
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