BWW Interview: Oklahoma Native John Tupy Joins National Tour of CHICAGO
Chicago: The Musical is the longest running musical in Broadway history. It first opened in 1975 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards. The 1996 revival is still running on Broadway. The 2002 film, starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. With book and lyrics by Frank Ebb and music by John Kander, Chicago is a sultry, dazzling, jazz-era crime story on stage. Every inch of it is iconic, from curtain up to final bows, and it glamorizes a time when newspapers did more than just report the news- they created it. The one and only Bob Fosse choreographed the original run, and the dance routines remain some of the most complex, intricate, and gorgeous numbers ever created.
A new tour just launched on the West Coast, and one of our own has joined the cast. Oklahoma Native John Tupy signed on as a Dance Captain and Male Swing, and he's had a busy rehearsal process! Tupy is known to Oklahoma audiences for his performances in Singin' in the Rain and Newsies at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Tupy took time out of his travels to answer some questions about the show and his process so far. Read below for his exclusive Q&A:
BWW: First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on the Chicago tour!!! What an exciting adventure. What has this process been like so far? Do you feel like you've grown as an artist?
JT: This process has been such a dream. I am one of the male swings on the tour, which means my job is essentially to understudy the male ensemble. I primarily cover five different roles (or "tracks") and have to be ready to be thrown into the show at any moment every night as any of those characters, so I spent rehearsals watching different people in the room and writing my way through several notebooks. It was a brand-new experience for me to spend the majority of rehearsals sitting down and writing rather than being on my feet learning choreography, but I eventually found a good balance between standing up to get the choreography in my body physically and sitting down to write out the movement in detail.
In many ways, I have realized that the process of being a swing satisfies both the artistic side of my brain and the intellectual side, too. I was always very academic growing up, but I never imagined that I would discover a job that to combine my nerdiness with my love of performing. Swinging has also been stretching my brain in brand new ways, proving itself to be one of the greatest artistic challenges I have ever faced. I can't wait to see how much this challenge pushes me this year, and hopefully, I will continue to swing other shows in the future!
BWW: What aspect of performing in this show are you most looking forward to?
JT: Ever since I learned what a Swing was, I've wanted to be one. I sort of expected that I wouldn't be cast as one professionally because I had never done it in school and didn't have it listed on my resume, so when I got the offer, I was thrilled to finally take on this dream. I'm really looking forward to the agility I'm going to have to use in this position. Performing in one track on a certain day and then a new track the next day requires a lot of mental flexibility, and I'm really excited to continue stretching my brain that way.
I'm also so excited to live in the world of this choreography for a while! I have always loved the way Fosse choreography feels in my body - the specificity, the indulgence, the personalization, all of it! Ann Reinking's choreography (in the style of Bob Fosse) for this production, set on us by our incomparable choreographer, Gary Chryst, just feels so good to do every night!
BWW: Chicago is one of the most iconic musicals, EVER, with the best dance numbers you can find. What do you think has kept it current for so long?
JT: Yeah! Chicago is the longest running American musical in Broadway history, and I think what makes this show so timely is how relevant the story continues to be. The show (through its glitz, glamour, razzle, and dazzle) satirizes the American justice system exposing how it can be manipulated to blur the lines of guilty and innocent. That gritty underbelly beneath Chicago's flashy exterior is really what makes it so timeless. Sure, everybody loves the music and choreography, but the story being told is such an important exposé of how far the American obsession with fame can go. That's what keeps the show grounded and has kept it (the current revival) on Broadway for over twenty years.
BWW: What would you say to any nay-sayers who think "I can just watch the movie instead of seeing the show live"?
JT: The movie is GREAT! I am a big fan of the movie. Though the show can feel more conceptual at times, the plot of the movie is laid out more linearly, so I totally understand why people love it so much. However, what makes the live performance so special is getting to feel the story come to life right in front of you. That is something you can only experience in the theatre. These are real human beings sharing this story in real time. That's what makes theatre itself so important. It happens right there in front of you. It is an experience and, as an audience, you are an integral part of it.
We talked a lot about energy throughout the rehearsal process; pulling off a Fosse piece really requires a masterful use of it. Every number is designed to elicit a certain response from the audience, and the only way to do so is to generate a performance that audiences can really feel. It's also live theatre, so it changes every night - especially as our audiences change from city to city. A certain line might sting with a little more relevance at a specific performance in one city, while a certain dance may feel more satisfying on another night. You never know what you're going to witness. That's what keeps performers on their toes and audiences at the edge of their seats.
BWW: Have you set any personal goals during this tour? If so, what are they?
JT: I have! One of my main goals while being on the road is to maintain my personal fitness. I have learned over the past couple of years that exercise really adds joy to my day, so I want to make sure I am keeping up with that while we're constantly traveling. I also think jogging through each of the cities we visit is an excellent way to connect with and enjoy each community. I also have set a goal to take pictures throughout the tour. I bought a new camera before rehearsals started and am just going to embrace feeling like a tourist for a year so I can capture all of these memories.
My last goal - and the one I am most passionate about - is to connect with all of our audiences around the country, especially aspiring young performers. Growing up in Oklahoma, national tours were the primary way I was able to see professional theatre, and I found each performance to be so inspiring. I am so excited to now be the one performing and sharing that inspiration with people across the country.
I really want to meet the next generation of artists, whether that's at the stage door after a show or teaching masterclasses at their local dance studios. I just really want to have an opportunity to encourage them. Dreams really can come true. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, and perseverance, but it really does happen. I just want every person in our audience to know that.
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To follow John's adventures on tour, check out his Instagram at @johntupy!
The National tour of Chicago runs through the summer, with a second leg starting in the fall.
For tickets, info, and All That Jazz, visit chicagoontour.com.