‘Chicago’ tour brings star power, hot music, ‘razzle dazzle’ to WAC

‘Chicago’ tour brings star power, hot music, ‘razzle dazzle’ to WAC

A familiar voice will remind the audience that “when you’re good to Mama/Mama’s good to you.” Christina Wells, who wowed judges during Season 13 of “America’s Got Talent,” lends her incredible voice to Matron “Mama” Morton during the 25th anniversary tour of “Chicago,” stopping Nov. 8-13 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

Her journey to many standing ovations was an unconventional one. The 46-year-old single mother was simply trying to keep her passion for singing alive.

“It was 2017, and my oldest son graduated, and I kind of had this realization that my children are going to grow up and leave. You don’t realize it — you know it as a tangible piece of information — but then when it starts to happen, you’re just kind of shocked, because you build your life around your children,” Wells says. “I wanted to be a singer when I was a young girl, and it just didn’t work out. I’ve always been plus size, and in the ’90s, when I was trying to be a singer, if you weren’t skinny, it wasn’t going to happen.”

She didn’t shelve her stage dreams completely. The registered nurse belted out tunes in local bars for karaoke competitions and performed in small theaters, including the role of Motormouth Maybelle in “Hairspray.”

“It was a small community theater outside of my hometown in Houston, Texas. And it was just a fun experience. And then the next year, I did a local singing competition at a bar. And I ended up winning,” she says. “The prize was a recording session. So I recorded at the studio, the song ‘I Know Where I’ve Been, which is the song I sang in ‘Hairspray.’”

That simple recording went “medium viral,” she says, then “America’s Got Talent” came calling.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, right. Like I’m going to be on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I was too fat 25 years ago, right? I’m too old now. There’s no way in the world this is going to happen. Sure, I’ll come sing,” she erupts in laughter. “When I was young, I auditioned for ‘American Idol,’ and they told me no. I auditioned for ‘The Voice’ twice. And they told me no. And so I thought this would just be like that. You know what I mean? Just go and sing, and it’s not going to happen, but it’ll be a cool story to tell. And next thing you know, I’m in the top 15.”

Now she’s living proof that dreams do come true, but sometimes you have to wait for the world to catch up.

“I don’t fit into those societal expectations of the beauty mold. Like, I know that I’m beautiful, and I have my own qualities. But I also understand what people are looking for on the cover of the magazine. And so I feel excited to tell people that I’m a regular person that had something I believed in and that I want to do, and I’m going to tell you something: Once I did ‘America’s Got Talent,’ I was like, ‘All bets are off now! Everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I’m going to try!’”

She also credits body positivity and fat positivity movements and better representation on screen with Keala Settle’s performance of “This Is Me” in “The Greatest Showman,” Ashley Graham’s Sports Illustrated cover and the meteoric rise of Lizzo in helping her gain confidence.

“It’s helped me immensely to accept my body and love my body… When I was 18 and 19, I weighed way less than I do now. And I was too fat then,” she adds. “To find such confidence in my 40s when I’m way fatter than I ever was … It’s 100% about body positivity. And I love to stand up and tell people, ‘Look at me. I never thought I’d have a singing career, now I’m on a Broadway national tour!’”

Her story is so inspiring that Wells is now a motivational speaker whose confidence is crucial to the role of the “countess of the clink,” especially in the scantily-clad cast of “Chicago.”

“’Chicago’ is a very, very sexy show. Everyone is in lingerie, and when I say everyone, I mean everybody is in slinky fishnet,” Wells says. “If I’m going to be Mama Morton in charge of all these murderesses in their lingerie, if I’m going to walk out on stage in a full suit with a little bustier action, I definitely have to bring my confidence.”

This is vital to a complicated character like Matron “Mama” Morton.

“I feel like Mama is warm, and she cares about these people. She does care about the women in her jail. [And] she’s about her business, and she does use them,” she says. “Like, I’m not going to say she doesn’t. But she cares. But more than anything she is the most dangerous of all the dangerous [women]. So she must be confident, and that, I for sure feel like I bring.”

The enduring trial by publicity, set to the music of John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebbs and choreography by Bob Fosse, is the longest-running American musical on Broadway. The story was based on reporting by Maurine Dallas Watkins, the reporter assigned to cover the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for The Chicago Tribune.

“It only did OK on Broadway” in the beginning, but Wells explains that it really picked in 1997 around the time of the OJ Simpson trial.

“I’ve really sat down and thought of this. So now here you have watched a famous person in a crime situation use the press to really create a way to have his own resolution,” Wells says. “Here you have this mirroring on stage now … Velma Kelly is this jazz singer who everyone knows. And she has killed her husband and her sister. So she’s using the press to figure out a way to get herself off. Then Roxy comes, and Roxy has killed her boyfriend. You think Roxy is small bits because she’s not famous. But she learns quickly how to get herself on the front page of the paper. And so the story — the press and drama, intrigue, wanting to know about famous people. Come on. That’s forever. That’s those are evergreen topics. Imagine if a Kardashian did something today, we would be glued to the television.”




WHAT — Celebrating 25 years of “razzle dazzle,” “Chicago” has won six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards, a Grammy and thousands of standing ovations.

WHEN — 8 p.m. Nov. 11; 2 & 8 p.m. Nov. 12; 2 p.m. Nov. 13

WHERE — Walton Arts Center, 495 Dickson St. in Fayetteville

COST — $41-$110

INFO — waltonartscenter.org

Categories: Theater