By Richard Schultz, September 2015 Issue.

Michael Barnard (pictured) will kick of his 17th season as Phoenix Theatre’s producing artistic director with the season opener of Chicago, which runs Sept. 9 through Oct. 4.

According to Barnard, a multitalented and well-recognized Valley artist, he’s concentrating his efforts on continued growth of the theater in production, education and new work development.

The upcoming season at Phoenix Theatre will be an ambitious one for him as he tackles directing Chicago, Toxic Avenger and The Wizard of Oz. In addition, he will be producing two staged readings for two world premiere musicals. The first of which is Sweet Dreams, a modern story based on William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream using the catalogue of the ‘80s pop music group Air Supply. The second project is a new musical based on a pilot on television years ago called “Cookin’s a Drag.”

Additionally, Barnard is working on a musical revue for Las Vegas and, next spring, he will direct the 15th anniversary parade for Universal Studio in Osaka, Japan.

Ahead of his 2015-2016 schedule, Barnard spoke with Echo about the upcoming production of Chicago, which stars Kate Cook as Roxie, Walter Belcher as Billy Flynn and Jenny Hintze as Velma.

Echo: Chicago has been staged in both the more traditional style of the original Broadway production in the 1970s and in the more recent sleek and sexy version. What is your concept for the staging?

Barnard: The truth is that I am combining the two concepts together. I love the original idea of the story being told through vaudeville acts and that the songs were commentary on the action of the scene. I also think that the power of sexual manipulation used by the female characters gives the show a very sensual look. The only real power they have is sexual because of their positon in life. Chicago really has a very sexy and somewhat sinister style to it.

Echo: What themes do you believe still resonate with audiences?

Barnard: In the theme of getting away with murder, you have to ask if anyone really gets away with it. Chicago explores the power of women over men when it comes to using their feminine ways. This musical explores numerous themes ranging from “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” to “You are only as good as your last performance.”

Echo: What do you anticipate will be the greatest challenge in directing this show?

Barnard: I want to make the show seamless. I don’t want the show to ever stop, but rather dissolve or “dovetail” into the next moment. That creates a momentum and a constant sense of fluidity, which is important to me in telling the story.

Echo: What surprised you the most in preparing for the show?

Barnard: I am always reminded how many layers are in the dialogue. It’s amazing how many angles are being played and how the characters are lying, yet not lying when they make a statement. They say just enough to make you think one thing, but in reality it is something else.

Echo: Do you have a favorite moment, scene or song in the show and why?

Barnard: I have always enjoyed the humor and sexy feel of the song “Cell Block Tango.” It mixes great humor, tremendous sensuality and a very violent subject which makes it seem exciting and stimulating.

Echo: Many readers may be familiar with the Oscar-winning movie version. How do they differ? How would you encourage those who have seen the movie and not the stage version to catch a performance?

Barnard: The movie has its own style. It is more realistic in nature, while the stage musical, especially with our approach, really tells the story in a way only theater can. Theatricality of vaudeville is something that only works live in stage. It really asks the audience to play along, enjoy the innuendos, engage in the sensuality of the show and the exciting and sexy musical numbers that really come alive when it is onstage live.

Echo: What are your insights on the appeal of this show to the LGBT community?

Barnard: The boys are beautiful. The women are strong and sexy. The story is fast-paced and sensual with a tremendous amount of sexual teasing. It feels dangerous and joyous at the same time.

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