Chicago comes to Whitehorse

If it weren't for TV, James McCullough would never be acting in the Guild's upcoming production of Chicago the Musical. The curtain rises on Whitehorse's staging of Broadway's longest-running revival next week.

If it weren’t for TV, James McCullough would never be acting in the Guild’s upcoming production of Chicago the Musical.

The curtain rises on Whitehorse’s staging of Broadway’s longest-running revival next week, directed by Vancouver’s Shane Snow, a first-time director to the Guild. But McCullough has had his eye on the role of Billy Flynn, the lawyer charged with representing showgirls and accused murderers, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, for decades.

“I’ve always wanted to do that, to be Billy Flynn,” said McCullough, a long-time performer in Guild plays.

McCullough has loved musical theatre his whole life. “A well-crafted lyric is better than any speech,” he said. And memorable numbers fill this musical, written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Ebb also wrote the lyrics for John Kander’s music.

In the late 1970s, McCullough watched Jerry Orbach, the original Broadway actor who played Flynn, perform a song from Chicago on The Mike Douglas Show. “I didn’t know Chicago from a hole in the ground,” he said. But after watching that number, he couldn’t forget it.

When he heard the Guild acquired the rights to the musical, he knew he had to audition. He wanted Flynn’s role, but he’d have been happy with any part in the production, he said.

But if it weren’t for TV, he doubts many people would be interested in a 1970s Broadway production based on a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins 1926, he said.

“Reality television,” he said when asked why audiences continue to flock to the show.

“I think it plays better now to the public than it did in the ‘70s because they didn’t have the television, celebrity magazines,” said McCullough.

When Chicago ran on Broadway in the 1970s, People magazine was only a few years old. But its revival came in the late ‘90s, just as reality television and the Internet were becoming fixtures in popular entertainment, “and it just caught fire,” said McCullough. In 2002, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Queen Latifa starred in a film version that earned an Academy Award for Best Picture.

That version introduced the story to Rebecca Whitcher, who plays Roxie Hart in Whitehorse’s production. She remembers how she “burst out laughing” watching Gere’s performance from her seat in Yukon Theatre.

“By the end of the movie, I was totally sold on it,” she said. Whitcher, who was born and raised in Whitehorse, has been acting and dancing since childhood and studied musical theatre in British Columbia.

Just like her character, Whitcher loves to perform, and she’s been in two previous Guild productions. In that way, she can relate to Hart’s desire for fame, she said. But she can’t identify with everything about her. “I’ve definitely never done that,” she said, referring to how Hart murders her lover, and then outright lies to her husband who takes the blame for the act before his wife is eventually arrested.

“She is more manipulative (than me), certainly,” Whitcher said. But everyone can be an opportunist, she said.

And that’s what makes the story work, said McCullough.

Whitehorse may have little in common with Prohibition-era Chicago. There’s not much of a celebrity culture here, he said. But the story has a lot of truth to it – and not just because actual murder trials inspired Watkins’s play.

“This is a show about celebrity, unearned celebrity, more than anything,” he said.

“It’s a very, very cynical show. People will do anything for success – well most people will,” said McCullough. “It really shows the underbelly of the American character, which we see all the time: Teen Mom and the Kardashians and all that.”

Today’s entertainment relies on generating drama. And Chicago provides a good commentary on this, he said.

But while the show may be about unearned celebrity, this production only comes after a lot of hard work.

Only about one in 20 companies that apply for the rights to stage Chicago gets it, said Katherine McCallum, the Guild’s artistic director. Almost 60 people auditioned for the 20 roles in December, she said. And those who earned the spots have been working tirelessly on their performances.

Whitcher has done little more than work and rehearse for the last month, she said. Rehearsals have been running Tuesday and Friday evenings for four hours, and then for seven hours on Saturdays and another seven on Sundays.

It can be hard to take a break from the show.

“You wake up in the middle of the night, and you’ve got a song stuck in your head,” said Whitcher.

But that’s not a bad thing.

“It’s just a tremendously strong show from beginning to end,” said McCullough. It may not be fit for children – his young daughters won’t be coming to the performances – but it’s still a lot of fun.

“It’s a very flashy, flashy show. You can’t help but like it,” he said.

The show runs from April 10 to May 4. Tickets are $25 for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday performances. Friday and Saturday shows cost $27. Tickets can be purchased at Whitehorse Motors.

The April 9 preview and the April 17 performance are pay-what-you-can. Tickets for these shows are only available at the door. All shows begin at 8 p.m. sharp at the Guild Hall at 27 Fourteenth Ave. in Porter Creek.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read