When I first heard that Jennifer Nettles was going to take over the role of Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago, I had to admit: I was nervous. I love Jennifer Nettles. I have been a fan of the country band, Sugarland, for years. The latter part of my teenage years were spent scream-singing their songs in my hand-me-down car on the way home from high school. I celebrated my 18th birthday on the lawn of New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center in the pouring rain singing along with the audience as Jennifer sang “Stay.” I witnessed the entertaining threat of the rapture on that very same lawn not more than a year later; same duo, different audience. So, when this adorable, country-twang, hip-swaying vocalist said she was going to take on the bold and blonde Roxie, I was nervous.
Yet, I also felt the immediate need to purchase tickets as soon as my next paycheck rolled in. I spent my Thanksgiving/Black Friday part-time retail job rush on those tickets. I was broke for the next two weeks, only taking necessary car trips to save gas and living off whatever food I found in my parent’s house. I was still nervous.
On February 8th, 2015, I drove my mom and one of my best friends to Hamilton, NJ. We got on the train, arrived in NYC an hour later, and walked around a foggy city until the show began. I was still nervous.
At 2:15 we had a wonderful conversation with the usher Miranda. Words can not describe the gratitude I have for this woman, for reasons you will find out later. At 2:30, the lights dimmed. The half-dressed dancers tapped into view. Velma Kelly sang “All That Jazz” and then Jennifer Nettles walked on stage. As you can guess, I was still nervous. She uttered some words here and there, shot the man with whom her character has an affair, and left. It wasn’t until she climbed up a ladder and sang “Funny Honey” that the knot in the pit of my stomach was replaced with love.
Here was this woman, who at one point in her life had climbed into a giant plastic ball and walked across her audience, who sang a stripped-down “Stay” at the Grammys, who let us in on her journey as she grew from Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”, now standing on a ladder and selling this salacious performance. She was proving that she really does have all that jazz.
At intermission, Miranda asked if my friend and I would like to move to the very front row. I am a college student who has not only become used to the nosebleed seats, but I have adapted to them. I have learned how to see the best performances from those seats. I chose these Chicago tickets because I knew we were going to get the best view that our pockets could afford. Now, I was not even a foot away from this woman for the entire second act. I was in an amorous fog of disbelief. When she winked at me and didn’t break eye contact as she asked for applause for the band, I could feel the 16-year-old in me faint and the 21-year-old me trying not to cry.
Jennifer Nettles not only brought her game for this performance, but she proved that she can do anything she sets her mind too. She can do more than act in her music videos. She can be the juggernaut for an entire arena’s energy and she can carry a musical. If I have learned anything from being a fan, it is that Jennifer Nettles will do what she wants to do and she’ll do it with every ounce of passion she has, maybe even more. Chicago is the furthest thing from what I would expect from her, but she held her own with the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail.
Now, if you thought this was going to be a love-letter to Jennifer Nettles, you were right. However, I can’t discuss seeing Chicago without mentioning the amazing addition of Carly Hughes as Velma Kelly. I was there to see Jennifer Nettles without question. So, when I noticed Hughes as she strutted across the stage and brought her saucy attitude to the front, I was surprised. I didn’t know much about this musical besides what I saw in the film adaption with the dazzling Catherine Zeta-Jones. I knew there was a jail and that there were women inside the jail and one of them would be Jennifer Nettles. Now having seen the production, I see that these two dynamic characters play off each other wonderfully. Each role is a showcase for each actress. If you didn’t know Jennifer Nettles from her previous work, and are there to simply see the musical, you are in for an amazing performance from both leading ladies.
I never had a huge desire to see Chicago, especially with my mom sitting next to me. There are a lot of tight pants and exposed bras that one just doesn’t need to see with one’s mom. However, the moment I realized that Jennifer Nettles could do this, that all went away. Many people were there to see her, but many others were just there to see the show. I have no doubt in my mind that they were delivered a Broadway-quality performance. Although I did not get to have the stage door experience that I built up in my head, nothing could bring me down from — not only the experience this specific theater group gave me (thank you, Miranda, for giving me this) – but the overall talent that graced that stage. Go see Chicago, everyone. They’ll give you the ol’ razzle dazzle.