Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Chicago"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone



"CHICAGO"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone



Welcome to 1920's Chicago as you enter the Ivoryton Playhouse's first show of their summer season as director Todd Underwood transports the audience into the prison atmosphere needed for his blockbuster musical hit "Chicago" by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Their 1975 vaudeville type musical is based on the 1926 play by Maurine Watkins. The 1996 musical version revival won six Tony Awards, is the longest running musical revival in Broadway history and the 2003 movie version won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless love, Fred Casely and she convinces her hapless husband, Amos to take the rap for her. That is until he finds out he has been duped and turns on her. She and fellow murderess, Velma Kelly, both on death row, vie for the spotlight and headlines, hoping the publicity will launch them to fame, freedom and successful stage careers with the help of slick lawyer, Billy Flynn. The story is a satire on the corruption of the criminal justice system and the logic of "the celebrity criminal." This sharp edged tale of murder, exploitation and treachery was well ahead of its time in 1975. It works much better now that the country sat through the OJ trial to display the circus atmosphere in 1920's Chicago. Director/choreographer Todd Underwood leads his talented cast in this rollicking musical with his brilliant direction and fantastic choreography with superb dancing that will leave you breathless and entertained all night long.

He is aided in his task by musical director Paul Feyer, who not only conducts a topnotch 9 piece orchestra and also plays the keyboards but obtains amazing harmonic balance from the cast, too. The musicians are onstage over the performers. Todd's choreography is phenomenal including the Charleston, the shimmie, ballet, tap and other physically demanding ones, while keeping the dancers in perfect unison at the same time. Todd also uses colorful costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina and also infuses high energy in his cast and gives them marvelous insight into their characters. I last reviewed Todd as a choreographer for "La Cage Aux Folles" back in 2014 at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Playing the lead role of Roxie Hart is gorgeous, Lyn Philistine. Lyn makes the part of Roxie, her own with her singing voice, her acting and dancing skills. Her interactions with her fellow performers are wonderful. Lynn's first number "Funny Honey" is performed while singing of her love and devotion for her husband, Amos. He is taking the rap for her but when he founds out about Fred, he starts to spill the beans and she jumps up to call him, "My scummy, crummy, hubby of mine." Her next number is "Roxie Hart" where she sings about how famous she will be as she dances up a storm with her boys. Her standout number is "Me and My Baby" where she fakes being pregnant so she won't be hung. This number is reminiscent of "Whatever Lola Wants" from "Damn Yankees" and it stops the show with hilarity with the chorus doing a wild Charleston to it. Then near the end of the show Lynn tugs at your heartstrings with a tearful rendition of "Nowadays." Later she and Velma do a marvelous dance to close out the show.

Roxie's fellow inmate, Velma is excellently played by Stacey Harris who is a whirling dervish while singing and dancing in various numbers in the show. She and the cast open the show with a sizzling version of "All That Jazz". a double entendre for music and sex. This number sets the bar for the rest of this high energy musical. Stacey leads the girls in another show stopper "Cell Block Tango" where they explain how they killed their husbands and boyfriends while dancing up a storm with chairs. Her solos include "I Can't Do It Alone" where she tries to convince Roxie to do a sister act with her and in "When Velma Takes the Stand" where she tells Billy how she'll conduct herself at the trial. The male chorus backs her up during this song. Stacey's duets with Lynn include "My Own Best Friend" when they realize they only have themselves to depend on and in "Nowadays" which closes the show as they realize they have to work together to survive. This becomes a scintillating dance that stops the show with their brilliant rendition. Her other duet is "Class" with the Matron as they listen to Mary Sunshine on the radio and Velma realizes that Roxie stole her dress, shoes and routine. This song is a hoot. Lynn and Stacey play off each other beautifully creating the strong leads that are necessary for this musical.

Christopher Sutton is marvelous as the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn who gets his clients acquitted for $5000. His first entrance stops the show with his "All I Care About" as he dances with the chorus girls, displaying Billy as a womanizer, too. Christopher's second number is "Razzle Dazzle" where he explains the judicial system is like a circus and you can get away with anything. This song has the best harmonic blends with the cast. His terrific baritone voice soars in all his numbers and he especially shines in the puppet number "We Both Reached for the Gun" where he uses his voice and a ventriloquist's voice. Billy has Roxie in his lap as a puppet as he sings her answers to the reporters while the chorus does an energetic Charleston to it. Christopher handles the role with panache. The butch matron is excellently played by Sheniqua Trotman. As Mama, she steals many a scene with her clever and caustic one liners. Sheniqua is gangbusters as she belts out "When You're Good to Mama" with her powerhouse jazz voice and sings a lovely harmony to "Class" with Velma in the second act which brings down the house with sustained laughter. The sob sister reporter, Mary Sunshine is played in drag by Z. Spiegel. He is a hoot as Mary and displays his strong falsetto voice in "A Little Bit of Good" where she sings there is good in everyone including murderers. Another endearing character is Ian Shain as Amos. The audience loves him from his first entrance when he confesses to a crime he didn't commit until his last moment when he doesn't receive any exit music. This is par for this schlep and the audience can really empathize with him at Roxie's final rejection. Ian's portrayal of this sad sack is fantastic and his rendition of "Mr. Cellophane" is dynamite, too. Kudos also to the hard working male and female dancers for their terrific prowess in this dancing musical. They all receive a very well deserved standing ovation at the close of the show. So for a phenomenal rendition of this high energy musical, be sure to catch "Chicago" at Ivoryton Playhouse before the show dances out of town. This is my thirteenth year of reviewing shows at this historic and beautiful Playhouse in the heart of Connecticut. My first review was of Sherlock Holmes which ran from July 2 to 19, 2003 with the run of that show dedicated to Katherine Hepburn who got her start at the Ivoryton Playhouse in 1931.

CHICAGO (29 June to 24 July)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, CT
1(860)767-7318 or www.ivorytonplayhouse.org




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