A life in color: New tuner about cartoon favorite Betty Boop opens in Chicago on its way to Broadway

Jasmine Amy Rogers always knew that someday she would be a cartoon character. Her mother told her and her brother as much when they were children. But the actress always thought it would be as a voice artist. Then came the Broadway-bound “Boop! The Betty Boop Musical” and a role Rogers was destined to play.

“My grandmother grew up with Betty Boop. My mother grew up with Betty Boop,” said the 24-year-old who stars in the premiere playing through Dec. 24 at Chicago's CIBC Theatre.

At an amusement park during a family vacation, Rogers begged her mother for a Betty Boop doll.

“I carried it around with me for the rest of the vacation,” she recalled. “I still have a Boop nightgown I wear to this day.”

“It feels like kismet that I get to play her,” Rogers said.

But before she could fulfill her destiny, she had to convince director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell she was right for the part of Betty Boop, a sexy, spit-curled cartoon character pioneering animator Max Fleischer introduced in 1930. Featured in more than 100 animated theatrical releases, the Jazz Era flapper also appeared in comic strips and has long been a favorite of mass merchandisers.

“Own the room,” associate director DB Bonds advised her before her audition.

“I had to go in with full confidence ... fully assured that this is something I can do,” said Rogers, who played Gretchen Wieners in the national tour of “Mean Girls.” “At the last audition, I did that.”

Mitchell, the Tony Award-winning choreographer of “Kinky Boots” and “La Cage aux Folles,” liked what he saw. As for Rogers, she has complete faith in Mitchell's vision for the show, which he has been a part of since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

When producers first approached Mitchell about helming a Betty Boop-centered musical, they had no story. What they had was several songs from Grammy Award-winning composer David Foster and Tony-nominated lyricist Susan Birkenhead. That was enough to convince Mitchell the show had potential.

“They played me the songs,” he said. “I was ecstatic.”

But they needed a story. Enter Tony-winning writer Bob Martin (“The Drowsy Chaperone”), who began working with Mitchell on the story, which begins at Max Fleischer's studio, where Boop is a big star in a black-and-white world. On a day off, she winds up in New York City, awash in color, Mitchell said.

Describing the character as strong, sexy and independent, Mitchell says hers is not the typical female empowerment story. He didn't want that to be the focus.

“The focus of the show is love,” he said. “If you don't have love, you don't have much, and it should be a priority of your life to find it: love of yourself, love of others and true love.”

“Your life is never full of color until your life is full of love,” he said, adding that at a time when hate and bile dominate, the show's message about love changing a person's life is one worth spreading.

“Jerry Mitchell has had a clear vision of what he wants and he's followed through with lightning accuracy,” said Foster, who's penned and/or produced hits for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Chicago, among others.

“Boop!” marks Foster's first musical.

“Nobody ever asked me before,” admitted the composer, adding, “it's been quite a ride.”

While composing a musical poses challenges, Foster says it was a relief not to worry about composing a score that included a Top 40 hit. For decades, the pop composer pursued and earned hit records, as evidenced by his 16 Grammy Awards and such chart-toppers as The Tubes' “She's a Beauty,” Chicago's “You're the Inspiration” and Boz Skaggs' “Look What You've Done to Me” (from the film “Urban Cowboy”), among others.

“I just want to make good music,” said Foster, who composed about 45 songs for the show.

Not all of them made the cut.

“I was told, be prepared to throw out your best song,” he said.

He did. Another ballad was in and out of the show, off-and-on for more than a year.

“It's a really pretty melody, but it might not survive,” admits Foster, who understands and accepts that the response of Chicago audiences may determine what “Boop!” looks and sounds like when it moves on, hopefully to a 2024 Broadway berth.

For now, Rogers says she hopes audiences leave The CIBC Theatre with smiles on their faces.

“I hope they leave feeling the urge to love each other a little more and smile a little more,” she said.

• • •

“Boop! The Betty Boop Musical”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 24. Also, 2 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20. No 7:30 p.m. shows Dec. 17 and 24

Where: The CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St., Chicago, broadwayin

Tickets: $28-$106

Grammy Award-winner David Foster composed the score for "Boop! The Betty Boop Musical," running through Dec. 24 at CIBC Theatre. Courtesy of Air Asia
Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell helms and choreographs "Boop! The Betty Boop Musical." Courtesy of Christopher DeVargas
Jasmine Amy Rogers plays the titular cartoon character in "Boop! The Betty Boop Musical," the new tuner running through Dec. 24 at Chicago's CIBC Theatre. Courtesy of Mark Seliger
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