New York City native Jess DiForte’s parents didn’t take their kids on vacations. They took them to Broadway. DiForte’s parents may not have known it at the time, but doing so introduced their daughter to her future profession and helped instill her lifelong dream: to be on Broadway.
“Broadway has been in my backyard since I was a child,” said DiForte who last year earned a role in the 25th anniversary tour of “Chicago,” beginning performances Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the CIBC Theatre.
Getting cast in a national tour was one of the first steps in the pursuit of her dream, which began in earnest when she arrived in Chicago six years ago to attend the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.
“Their musical theater dance program is such a special program for very particular career routes,” she said. “It’s exactly what I wanted in college.”
For instruction and inspiration, DiForte credits Broadway veteran and Roosevelt University professor Jane Lanier.
Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University graduate Jess DiForte, first row, lower right, performs in the 25th anniversary tour of “Chicago” featuring Jeff Brooks, center, as Billy Flynn. – Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel
“She taught us how to hold the show together, how to be the backbone of the show and how to become a dancer to be hired, a dancer who could do any style and back up any show or performance,” said DiForte, who had a supporting role in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s 2021 revival of “Legally Blonde.”
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Upon graduating in 2020, the 24-year-old singer/dancer began executing her master plan. She got a job performing on a cruise ship, which led to her signing with an agent who arranged an audition for the “Chicago” national tour that she booked about seven months ago.
“I’m so grateful it’s unfolded like this,” she said. “I’m a very lucky person to be so quickly out of college and get this amazing work.”
DiForte plays June and understudies the role of co-leading lady Velma Kelly, a vaudeville entertainer arrested on charges of shooting to death her boyfriend who was fooling around with her sister.
It’s all a bit serendipitous for DiForte, who loves the musical.
Cast members from the “Chicago” 25th anniversary tour, including Jess DiForte, second from right, perform the musical’s “Cell Block Tango.” – Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel
“I would do it forever,” said the actress who, as an undergraduate, learned one of its signature numbers, “Hot Honey Rag” choreographed by Bob Fosse.
Over the course of the tour, she has gone on for Logan Floyd, who plays Velma. DiForte she says the experience taught her that she can’t question her abilities or her knowledge of the material.
“I need to be Velma and I need to be good at it,” she said. “I can’t second-guess myself because it will only waste time.”
Fortunately, she had the support of the cast who she says is a tight-knit group.
“I feel we can call each other family,” she said.
“I’m honored to be in this tour,” she said. “Every night we get to do (‘Chicago’), something beautiful is created.”
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When: Jan. 17-29
Where: CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com
COVID-19 precautions: Masks recommended