Pontiac-raised dancer advances theater career in ‘Chicago’ – The Oakland Press

“Chicago” runs from March 28 to April 2 at the Fisher Theater in Detroit. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

James Vessel spent his high school and college years in the Detroit area and developed a passion for dance and eventually theater. But one place he never went to at that time was the Fisher Theatre.

That changes this week when Vessel, 31, who now lives in New York, returns as part of the cast of Fisher’s “Chicago” through April 2. It’s her first national tour, and a step forward in a career that has been on the rise since she was a student at the Pontiac Academy For Excellence.

“It’s very refreshing to feel like there’s a renewal in my career, a new beginning,” says Vessel, who portrays a sheriff and is on the jury for “Chicago,” by phone from a tour stop in Madison, Wisconsin. “I’m really enjoying the experience of touring so much and doing this in a new way.”

Musical theater was not part of Vessel’s original path, however.

“chicago” is the first national tour for wayne state university alumnus james vessel, 31. (photo courtesy of broadway in detroit)

A native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he came to the metro area as a teenager to live with his father, who moved north to be with his family after Vessel’s parents separated. (Ontzia’s father and other relatives are still around.) Ontzia was also an athlete at the Academy, but found herself dancing in her senior year, when she and some friends choreographed a hip-hop competition at school.

“We saw a lot of contemporary dance and incorporated that into our routine,” recalls Vessel, who at the time hoped to pursue a career in the sciences. The group put on a performance for classmates and teachers, and it was a science teacher who encouraged them to take a ballet class. “I fell in love with dance after taking two adult ballet classes,” says Vessel. “That’s when I decided I didn’t want to study math and science. I wanted to become a performer.

“I knew I had to do that while I was younger. I could always go back to school if I wanted to do an engineering degree or something similar. But if I were to be an interpreter, this was the time.”

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