The mutual admiration society between Courtney Flood and Jeff DeVincent began in 2002, with a SCAD production of the freaky cult musical Bat Boy.
“I was in my freshman year, and I auditioned,” remembers Flood. “I was just a silly little freshman that wandered into a mainstage production audition like ‘oh, I guess I’ll do this.’”
Director DeVincent—one of the founders of the SCAD theater program—cast the young Virginia native in Bat Boy, and she’s been in dozens of his community theater productions in the years since.
“I’ve lost count of how many shows I’ve done with him, and I hope that I can continue to lose count,” Flood says. She stars as chorus girl-gone-bad Roxie Hart in Bay Street Theatre’s DeVincent-helmed Chicago, opening Aug. 8.
“I just know I’m in good hands; he’s just one of those people. As an actress and a performer, he’s not going to let me fail. So I’m freer to take risks, and do things that I wouldn’t normally feel safe doing, because he’s there to put me where I need to be. And he’ll push you where you never thought of taking something.”
Flood majored in theater and minored in dance; she’s put both skills to good use in many of DeVincent’s big Bay Street musicals (she played the lead in 2011’s popular Cabaret, for example, and choreographed the show).
“Courtney has become kind of a muse for me,” observes DeVincent. “I just really like working with her. Sometimes she would choreograph for me and not be in the show—she and I speak and think in the same terms, and she’s always open to my warpo ideas. And she makes good of them.”
Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse (the same team that cooked up Cabaret), is a vaudeville-style musical about a pair of merry man-killers during the era of Prohibition. Bay Street regular Cecilia Arango—whom DeVincent describes as “my other muse”—co-stars as Roxie Hart’s singing and dancing nemesis, Velma Kelly.
The 2002 movie version, with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, took the Academy Award for Best Picture.
“The film is quite well-loved, but obviously there’s quite a difference between the film and the stage production of this show,” says Flood. “We’re really trying to stick to some of the roots of what Fosse created with Chicago, and sort of stepping in and out of reality. And touching on the vaudeville side of things. It’s definitely going to be different than the movie. I think it would be flat if we did it just like the movie.”
She’s choreographing some of the musical numbers, but not all. Lauren Holmen and JoJo Ward are doing the dancework, too—because Flood, along with tackling a lead role, is the mother of a 5-month-old son.
She has a full-time job, at BleuBelle Boutique and Bridal. And for 2 ½ years, she’s been a cast member at the Savannah Theatre, where musical revues tend to run, nightly, for six-week stretches.
“I never have been obsessed with being recognized or noticed,” she says. “It didn’t matter to me where I did my art, I just had to do it. It was an affliction. And if it meant that was community theater while I worked a regular day job, that was OK.
“And through relentlessly pursuing what I love, no matter if it was paid or not, I actually ended up getting a paid gig here in Savannah.”
(She was also on TV, for a period, in commercials for Chatham Parkway Lexus. “It paid the bills,” she shrugs.)
Chicago, DeVincent explains, “is a giant undertaking because we are returning to the vaudeville. And having a blast with that. I think a solid two and a half weeks of rehearsal has been just choreography. The more I fell in love with the show, I fell for the brilliance of Fosse. And I’d really like to raise him from the dead.”
Easier said than done, of course. For Flood, achieving the very specific look and feel of Fosse-style choreography has been a (welcome) challenge. “It’s actually anti-everything I’ve ever been trained to do,” she says. “It’s difficult to do for dancers like me; I have a background in ballet. You’re just going against everything you were ever taught.
“It’s really fun because of that. Obviously, your training does comes in handy, but the positions are deconstructed from the lift and the attitude of ballet. His dances are rooted in acting.”
DeVincent thinks—no, he knows—Flood is absolutely ideal for his Roxie Hart. “She has the perfect Fosse physique and personality, kind of a cross between Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett personality,” he gushes. “It really lends itself to Fosse. And the same thing with Cecilia. And they both can go dark, which is nice.
“I think where I completely and utterly fell in love with Courtney was in A Chorus Line which, ironically enough, until Chicago was my all-time crazy favorite. I grew up on A Chorus Line. She played my Diana Morales, and she was gorgeous in both of those numbers that Morales sang. Then of course Cabaret and so on, and here we are with Chicago.”