‘Chicago’ star Illeana Kirven as Mama Morton Says, “Get Ready to Be Knocked off Your Seats San Diego”

With a bubbly personality and energy for days—the sensational Illeana Kirven, will star as the brash, sassy and corrupt matron, Mama Morton in the musical Chicago. The tour kicks off at the San Diego Civic Theater—and we were lucky to catch up with her just before the show opens on February 13th

The conversation began at 3:00pm PST/8:00am JST so I couldn’t help but wonder if she was an early bird or not.  

She absolutely was and we kicked off the conversation talking about how much she loves performing and being submerged in different cultures—hence why she was currently in Japan. In addition to Japan, she’s also performed in Korea and absolutely loves K-Pop, but her roots lie in East Texas.

We have that in common because my family too has roots in East Texas—Overton to be exact. “Everybody who’s from Texas knows Overton! It’s only about 20 minutes or so, away from Tyler.” She excitedly mentioned.

Kirven is originally from Tyler and when she was just 14, a performance at The Dance Factory, a community theatre in Tyler, blew her away. Produced by Pamela Boson Erwin, that performance inspired Kirven as she saw a production featuring an array of talented black and brown performers. Yes, representation matters.

Boson-Erwin, who trained at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, became Kirven’s mentor along with other students from the Tyler community who went on to have successful entertainment careers.  Since then, Kirven’s dance and acting skills led her to opportunities producing and choreographing Crowns and Sister Act at The Tyler Civic Theater. 

An alumna of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, Kirven says,

“Performing feels very giving because every show that’s done right, feels like there’s something you can take away from it. There’s always a message.”

Take Chicago for instance, it’s a story based in the twenties and told through the eyes of a journalist who’s assigned to report on several cases—murders that have been committed by mostly women. It’s gives witty commentary on the corruption within the criminal justice system and pokes fun at the concept of the “celebrity criminal.” 

In the role of Mama Morton, Kirven gets to show off her vocals in one of the shows most popular songs, “When You’re Good To Mama”. The audience first meets Mama Morton, the Matron of the Prison, in this dazzling, sassy number and we learn that she wants to take care of the women inmates, but for a price. Put it this way, she’s a ‘tit for tat’ type of woman if you know what I mean.

Kirven is excited for San Diego to see the show and beamed with pride over the phone, when talking about the production, “I get all teary eyed when I talk about the cast. The closeness with this cast is remarkable. We genuinely like each other.” 

She shared that she loves working with the top-notch performers in the show and that San Diego, should be prepared to be knocked off of their feet. 

“We have an amazing orchestra! I love singing with an orchestra that has your back.  You might mess up but they cover up for you with their amazing sound. We have fabulous musicians on stage. Our horns, strings, and we have an amazing drummer. The ensemble of dancers will blow your mind.  And our principals. Wow!”

As we ended our call, she told me how excited she was to get fitted in New York for a new beautiful, darker brown costume with material imported from Italy. With stunning costumes, a killer (no pun intended) orchestra, and magnetic energy, Chicago is sure to entertain theatre goers from all walks of life. 

Many people have seen the film starring Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta Jones, and that’s great but Kirven says, “People Love Chicago [the movie] but there is nothing that compares to live theatre.” 

We couldn’t agree more, and we’ll be up front cheering her and the rest of the cast as they put on a spectacular performance.

The cast of Chicago features Katie Frieden returning as Roxie Hart, Kailin Brown as Velma Kelly, Connor Sullivan as Billy Flynn, Illeana “illy” Kirven returning as Matron “Mama” Morton, Robert Quiles as Amos Hart and J. Terrell as Mary Sunshine. The cast also includes Paul Amrani, Olivia Lacie Andrews, Bentlei Benak, Faith Jordan Candino, Jason Carroll, Austin Taylor Dunn, Ed Gotthelf, Olivia Greco, Chelsea James, Liz Lester, Joe Meldrum, Adolfo Ortiz-Feder, Lauren Teyke, Kodiak Thompson, Francisco Thurston and Cait Zuckerman.

WHEN: Tuesday, February 13 – Sunday, February 18, 2024

WHERE: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

TICKETS: https://www.broadwaysd.com/upcoming-events/chicago/

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