Assumption College's Spring production is Kander and Ebb's 1975 vaudeville type musical, "Chicago". Based on the 1926 play by Maurine Watkins, the musical version revival in 1997 won six Tony awards and the movie version won the Oscar for best motion picture in 2003. The show takes place in roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless lover, Fred Casely. 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. This sharp edged tale of murder, exploitation and treachery was well ahead of its time in 1975. The revival which is still running on Broadway works much better after the OJ Simpson trial for audiences to understand the circus like atmosphere of the Chicago trials in the 1920's. Director Brian Tivnan casts his huge cast wonderfully and infuses them with the high energy and talent to pull off this musical. He is aided in this enormous undertaking by musical director Dan Petit and choreographer Jennifer Agbay who create the splendid spectacle of singing and dancing by the whole cast. Their terrific teamwork earns the over 40 member cast, their well earned standing ovation at the close of the show.
Brian utilizes almost the whole length of the gym floor for a stage set up on platforms. The set consists of jail cells upstage and an opening between them for characters entrances, as well as a spectacular Chicago sign lit for various numbers. Stage sets are moved on and off for various scenes. The original choreographer was Bob Fosse and Jennifer creates many topnotch dances including the Charleston, the tango and other demanding ones, using the whole cast in some of them. Dan plays the piano for the show and also leads a wonderful 6 piece orchestra, too. He taught the musical numbers to the cast and they excel in them. The costumes by Kurt Hultgren are splendid especially the Doctor Denton pajamas for the guys in "Me and My Baby". What a hoot they were in that scene. Christopher Gates' lighting and Cliff Broverman's sound enhance the show beautifully.
Playing the leading role of Roxie Hart is Amanda Richard, a sophomore. (I saw the original cast on Broadway in 1976 when I was a student at Assumption.) She has a wonderful singing voice, strong dancing skills, is a wonderful dancer and wears a blond wig throughout the show. Amanda's first number "Funny Honey" is performed while sitting on Dan's baby grand piano where she sings of her love and devotion for her husband, Amos who is taking the fall for her murder of Fred. But as soon as he spills the beans to the detective that she really killed Fred, her lyrics change into her scummy, dummy hubby of mine. Amanda's other two numbers are "Roxie Hart" where she sings how famous she will be and "Me and My Baby" where she fakes being pregnant. In both numbers she dances with her boys. Her fellow lead is Alexandra Fandetti, a senior who plays Velma who is a whirling dervish as a dancer in this role. Her singing voice is fantastic as she belts out "All That Jazz" ( a double entendre for music and sex) and the high energy dance number "Cell Block Tango" with the dancing and singing chorus. Alexandra's other solos include "I Can't Do It Alone" where she tries to convince Roxie to join her in a sister act and "When Velma Takes the Stand" where she tells Billy how she will conduct herself at her trial. Her duets with Amanda are "My Own Best Friend" and "Nowadays" where they finally do a sister act. This last number becomes a group dance number to close the show powerfully. The two young woman do an excellent job in their roles.
Gerard Magnarelli who is only a freshman, plays the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn. (What a great stage debut in his first role at Assumption.) He's a tough lawyer who gets his clients acquitted for $5000 but at his first entrance he sings "All I Care About is Love" as he does a striptease with a multitude of girls and later on dresses up in a silver lame tuxedo to sing "Razzle Dazzle" before the trial to say the law system is like a circus where the press distorts the facts and if you are famous enough they will let you go free. Gerard's acting is superb and his best number is the puppet song "We Both Reached For the Gun" where he holds Roxie on his lap while he sings her answers to the press as well as his own. He handles the back and forth voice changes as well as the tongue twisting lyrics with ease. Senior Chrissy Hanchett is dynamite as the butch matron, Mama Morton. She steals the show with her "When You're Good to Mama" as she belts the song out and goes out to flirt with audience members. An endearing performance is given by sophomore, Mark Blessington as Amos. The audience feels his pain as Roxie, Billy and everyone abuse him. His sad sack portrayal is excellent as is his solo "Mister Cellophane". Mark captures the hearts of the crowd from his first moment onstage when he confesses to a crime he didn't commit to the very end when he gets no exit music. Another scene stealer is Amanda Carelli, a sophomore who plays Mary Sunshine, a sobsister reporter. She throws Iris' out to the audience as she shows off her gorgeous soprano voice in "Little Bit of Good". Junior Jeremy Wolfe does a fabulous job as the emcee with all his introductions. Junior Matt Jannace handles the role of Fred very well. He gets killed off at the start of the show but returns as Roxie describes her fictional account of the murder. The five merry murderesses who sing about their reasons for murder in the "Cell Block Tango" are well played by Carolyn Yeshulas, Casey Mosca, Amanda Lauro, Katie Burns and Melissa Studdard. (Melissa has an excellent soprano voice which I heard when she played Sarah Brown 3 years ago but in this show she shows off her dancing prowess with the other girls as she goes from the straight laced Sarah to the slutty murdering, Annie. She is a senior who will attend Yale to become a Physician's Assistant.) Kudos to all the talented singing and dancing chorus members who helped to make this a show to be very proud of. So for a return to the roaring twenties, be sure to catch "Chicago" at my old alma mater, Assumption College. Tell them Tony Annicone from the class of 1976 sent you.