Posted Online: April 18, 2013, 12:58 pm

"Chicago" is music man's final show at Ambrose

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By Jonathan Turner,

"Chicago" at St. Ambrose -- featuring Kelsey Francis as Roxie, Tim Stompanato as Billy and Stephanie Seward as Velma -- opens tonight at Galvin Fine Arts Center.
Keith Haan

It's time again to paint the town for Davenport's Keith Haan, and the 70-year-old music man is conducting his last musical at St. Ambrose University, "Chicago," which opens tonight.

Dr. Haan -- who received his Ph.D in choral conducting from the University of Missouri -- is retiring at the end of this semester. He will continue to teach voice privately, serve as organist and adult choir director at Zion Lutheran Church, Davenport, and sing in the Augustana College-based Handel Oratorio Society and Quad City Choral Arts.

"I thought it was time to hang this up," he said of his Ambrose teaching and conducting duties, where he's been for 14 years. Dr. Haan has again partnered with theater department chair Cory Johnson (stage director) and freelance choreographer Shellee Frazee (who lives in Chicago) on the classic 1975 Broadway musical, made famous from Bob Fosse's dance moves.

"We are excited and thrilled to bring this artistic team to this production of 'Chicago,'" Dr. Johnson said. Dr. Haan was tickled when he heard one of the student performers refer to the trio as "the dream team."

"I think we work really well together," he said. "We have really strong respect for one another."

Despite its popularity -- the current Broadway revival (which opened in November 1996) is the third longest-running show in history, and the 2002 film version won the Best Picture Oscar (among six Academy Awards) -- Dr. Haan never has been involved with a previous production of "Chicago."

In addition to seeing the movie, and a 2008 Pleasant Valley High School version that went to the International Thespian Festival, he recently caught the show in New York while he visited with a group of Ambrose students, where they also sang at Carnegie Hall.

"First of all, the music is infectious," Dr. Haan said of the John Kander score that includes "All That Jazz" and "Razzle Dazzle." "It's not realistic at all, but you end up caring about some of these characters. There's an element of fantasy about the whole thing -- everybody's flawed. At some level you can identify with most of these characters. And it'sdone in such a light, crazy way."

Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation and treachery are the cornerstones of the 1920's-era Jazz Age story. "Chicago" follows seductive nightclub dancer Roxie Hart, who finds that the road to fame can be a trail of sinister plots.

The musical's Broadway website says: "A true New York City institution, 'Chicago' has everything that makes Broadway great: a universal tale of fame, fortune and all that jazz; one show-stopping song after another; and the most astonishing dancing you've ever seen."

The original 1975 production (which lost the Best Musical Tony to "A Chorus Line") ran for 936 performances, whereas the long-running revival in New York has steamrolled past "Chorus Line" (which is No. 6) for more than 6,810 performances.

This weekend, Ambrose senior Kelsey Francis reprises her PVHS role as Roxie, and Dr. Haan said she's really grown in the part.

"I was really proud of her as her voice teacher" during high school, he said. Now, "she made Roxie maybe a little harder, a little edgier."

"We just have some great people to work with, whether faculty or students, it's just been great," Dr. Haan said. "They're working hard, staying up late. We all know it's part of the game. Personally, we've got some freshmen that are just outstanding. It seems like we have more freshman students. We had a lot of interest in the show, students who've never done a show before, and want to get on stage."

Ms. Frazee is a 2000 alumnus of St. Ambrose who has choreographed many musicals at SAU, Countryside Community Theatre and North Scott High School. She alsoreturned to teach an Ambrose class in musical theater dance while she's choreographed this show.

Ms. Frazee has served as an adjunct teacher for the theatre department at St. Ambrose teaching movement for actors and dance classes. She worked with North Scott High School for over 10 years, and the school took three shows to the main stage at the International Thespian Festival during that time period. She received a Kennedy Center Award for her choreography for "Urinetown," produced at St. Ambrose.

Ms. Frazee is the artistic director of theatre and dance at the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago.
She was a percussion music major at the University of Iowa and received her bachelor's in theatre from St. Ambrose University. She owned and was Artistic Director of Center Stage Performing Arts Academy in the Quad-Cities, where she taught dance and theatre classes to students ranging in age from two through adult.

There also are two guest designers working on "Chicago," one being Jeff Peltz of the University of Central Missouri, doing the light design. According to his department website, Mr. Peltz has a broad professional history that includes work on more than 140 productions. He has served as a scenic designer, lighting designer, projection designer, technical director, production/stage manager, instructor or consultant for such producing organizations as KCPA Summerfest, Indiana University Northwest and Illinois Dance Theatre.

If you go

-- What: "Chicago," the musical
-- When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday.
-- Where: Allaert Auditorium, Galvin Fine Arts Center (Gaines and High streets), St. Ambrose University, Davenport.
-- Tickets: $15 for adults, $14 faculty/staff/alumni/senior citizens, $12 students, $11 groups and free for SAU students with current valid student ID. Call 563-333-6251 or visit