note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
When the national touring company of “Chicago” blew into Boston in 2008, starring Tom Wopat in his Broadway role as 1920‘s money-hungry, headline-grasping lawyer Billy Flynn, his performance was disappointing.
However, George Dvorsky, who has headlined on Broadway, nationally, and locally, is fantastic, giving the old razzle-dazzle as the sleazy, strategizing, mouthpiece for murderesses. Dvorsky struts his stuff elegantly, while giving his magnificent voice full range at Ogunquit Playhouse.
And from her naughty entrance on the aisle, nuzzling theatergoers, to her bombastic presence on stage, Sally Struthers is sensational as crooked, Big Bad Cook County prison matron “Mama” Morton.
“Chicago,” the play that proves crime does pay and paves the way to fame and fortune, has a colorful history of its own. Conceived originally in 1926 by former journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins, it was retrieved and converted into a musical by Bob Fosse, aided by John Kander and Fred Ebb, in 1975. Fosse’s wife, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach starred in the production, which was overshadowed by “A Chorus Line” then. When it was revived in 1996 and hit the Big White Way, it caught critics‘ and audiences’ attention, bigtime. Since then, “Chicago” has achieved record-breaking success in the movies and on stages in 24 countries.
From the band’s blaring overture, with muted horns, plink-a-plink piano, drums, and reeds, music director Ken Clifton and Co. are terrific. The musicians, seated on stepped, graduated levels on a centrally located raised structure, are integrated into the action, interacting with the performers.
Choreographer-director Gerry McIntyre, who also portrayed Billy Flynn on Broadway, inspires frenetic, sensual dancing in this vaudevillian set-up of a play-within-a-play that simulates the national touring company’s version.
“Chicago” is anything but typical, though. In lieu of dialogue, characters are introduced through signature musical numbers, such as Mama’s “When You’re Good to Mama,” and Flynn’s wily, “All I Care About,” surrounded by chorines. A.W. Marks as bleeding heart journalist Mary Sunshine hits all high notes, deliciously surprising everyone in the first act, with “A Little Bit of Good (in everyone)”. She also proves the adage things aren’t always what they seem.
The plot focuses on those torrid, tempestuous, headline-grabbing women of the decadent 1920s with murder in their eyes, who are making a killing on their potential freedom from jail and juicy show biz contracts. As jailbirds Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly vie for fast-fleeting fame in the headlines, we meet their less fortunate sister prisoners, including Hunyak the Hungarian, (Jillian Helms), who can’t speak English. She is wrongfully accused and ultimately executed, despite her pleas of “Not Guilty”.
Broadway veteran Angie Schworer as Roxy Hart, who maneuvers her nebbish husband, Amos, into paying her legal bills, is foxy, especially when she and Dvorsky prepare puppet-like testimony for her trial, that’s more circus-y than a Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey show.
Besides being a big-voiced singer, Rachelle Rak as former performer- infamous killer Velma Kelly, is an energetic, outstanding dancer with frenetic moves.
Ogunquit’s production of “Chicago” is a song-and-dance feast dripping with black lingerie, glitz and gumption, pizzazz and razz-matazz, reminiscent of the flourishing, illegal, extravagant, Prohibition Era speakeasies.
The play closes out this year’s season with a whopping, delicious big bang - and all that jazz.
BOX INFO: Two-act, multi-award winning musical, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, starring Broadway’s Rachelle Rak, Angie Schworer, Sally Struthers and George Dvorsky, choreographed, directed by Gerry McIntyre. Appearing now through October 24 at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. Route 1, Ogunquit, Maine. Tickets are $49-$67. For more information, reservations, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org, the Box Office, or call 207-646-5511.