Junior Claire Champommier played the character Hunyak, a Hungarian immigrant, in the Novato Theater Company’s production of “Chicago,” which recently sold out. The show ran from Oct. 19 to Nov. 12.
Directed and choreographed by Marilyn Izdebski, “Chicago” (book written by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb) was set in the 1920s and 30s and tells the story of two vaudevillian murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
The musical initially started as a play by Chicago Tribune reporter, Maurine Dallas Watkins. The trials of two murderesses, Beulah Sheriff Annan and Belva Gaertner, were covered by Watkins and the play was based off of their stories.
Izdebski wanted to direct “Chicago” ever since she first saw it in 1975 with the original Broadway cast at the 46th Street Theatre in New York. She tried getting the rights to “Chicago” several times before and was unsuccessful, so when the opportunity arose with the Novato Theater Company, she jumped at the chance to direct the production.
Champommier found out about the production from the piano accompanist at St. Hillary’s, the church she cantors at. According to Champommier, cantoring is singing solo or with a couple of other people. She emailed the crew for an audition slot, prepared a monologue, arranged a song and was accepted into her first all-adult cast.
Performing in Novato Theater Company's production of "Chicago," junior Claire Champommier (second from left) takes the stage as Hunyak with her fellow cast members.
“I think that working with an adult cast has made me a little bit more mature in a sense, of just being aware of my presence in an ensemble. A lot of the cast members didn’t know that I was 16,” Champommier said.
The audition that Champommier presented was not the type she was used to. According to Champommier, since she was a 16-year-old auditioning for an all-adult cast, her best chance of getting in was to perform the hardest monologue, which was all in Hungarian except for the line, “Not guilty, Uncle Sam.”
“So the night before callbacks, I looked it up on YouTube and I spent that whole night memorizing that monologue in Hungarian,” Champommier said.
Alison Peltz, who plays Velma Kelly and is the mother of Redwood junior Kelsey Peltz, recognized Champommier’s talent and acknowledged her efforts.
Alison Peltz (in front) and Claire Champommier (middle row: second from right) perform on stage together.
“It is very fun to work with a young person who is passionate about the field and is there by their own choice. She is very disciplined and takes whatever we have to give her, but also brings solutions to the table,” Peltz said. “I have friends that are in their 80s and now I have this new friend that’s 16, and the common thing is that we just have this passion to create art.”
According to Izdebski, the whole cast was able to bond during rehearsals, which started at the end of August and took place five days a week for three hours each night, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
There are three types of rehearsal according to Izdebski. There are rehearsals to learn the music and rehearsals to work on choreography. Then, blocking rehearsals are when the dialogue and monologues are practiced. These are all put together, and the full show is run through several times.
The company was considering performing an additional show to help fundraise for the fire victims in the North Bay, but because schedules conflicted, they decided to have the actors in the lobby collecting money instead. Not only was this cause special to several North Bay residents, but also cast members in the show.
“Four people in our cast were deeply affected. Nobody lost their home, but they couldn’t even make it to rehearsal that week. It was very emotional for all of us,” Izdebski said.
Despite this tragic occurrence, the show continued on and was a success, as each performance had a full house.
“When people come together, doing the things that they love, putting 110 percent into what they love, they can’t go wrong,” Champommier said.