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Q&A: Musical actress Choi Jung-won

Musical actress Choi Jung-won’s starred in Chicago for 12 seasons over the past 15 years. She shares with us her Chicago experiences and her changing perceptions of the musical, as well as her role within it

How do you feel about being part of Chicago for so long?
Chicago is one of the few musicals that has memorable songs, dances and acting. Since each of those elements depends so much on the actor featured in it, there’s a lot of pressure but also very high reward. For me, personally, I think each season gets better and better.
 
This season, the same cast from last season has returned. How’s that been?
We all watched the original Chicago cast when they came to Korea. The performance was amazing. So we really wanted to get back to work again. We had the feeling of, “This is it!” It was inspiring and we were motivated to work on improving in our roles.
 
During the first season, you played Roxie and now, you’re playing Velma. How was the switchover?
I started as Roxie Hart (the lead) in 2000 and became Velma Kelly (a supporting role) in 2007. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, because I thought, “I can still be Roxie, I could do it so much better if I got another chance.” But as time has passed, I’ve thought about how interesting it is that I’m now playing an actress whose limelight is stolen by Roxie. Being able to experience two different roles within a single musical is a rarity and I’m happy to have the opportunity to do so.
 
Being a part of Chicago for 15 years also means that you’re 15 years older. Is it hard to age as an actress?
I’m not sad about it—as a woman, maybe a little bit, but not as an actress. I like my wrinkles as well. I can be Velma and play the part of Dona from Mamma Mia thanks to my age. I wouldn’t have been able to do so if I was still in my 20’s or 30’s. It’s what I can do now and I want to do so even when I’m in my 70’s and 80’s. If I do my best every day, enjoy my work, be happy and not struggle too hard to “do nothing else but this,” I will become someone who cannot be imitated. Like a sharp rock being smoothed out by the waves, I am in the middle of that process.
 
Has your perception of the musical changed as time goes by?
Even when I was Roxie, I loved the lyrics of “Nowadays.” It goes, “But nothing stays in fifty years or so. It’s gonna change, you know. But oh, it’s heaven nowadays.” Chicago may look like it’s full of satire, but in fact, it’s very philosophical. Being happy now is more important than money and fame. This is one of the messages the show carries and I am moved by it every day. I have gained a lot of life lessons from Chicago, not just as an actress but also as a person.
 
What do you want to show through Chicago?
I want to show people the reason why I, actress Choi Jung-won, am starring in this production for such a long time. Showing doesn’t mean expressing it an excessive way. I want to share an honest portrayal of Velma and to convey the musical’s deeper messages. And of course, I want this to be a musical that moves people, even if the sets and costumes never change.

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