Star Players of Bristol County's 25th Anniversary 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 while the 2003 movie version won the best picture Oscar. In the roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless lover, Fred Casely and convinces her hapless husband Amos to take the rap for her, until he finds out he's been duped and turns on Roxie. Convicted and sent to death row, Roxie and another "Merry murderess", Velma Kelly vie for the spotlight and headlines, hoping publicity will launch them to fame, freedom and successful stage careers. The story is a satire based on the corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the logic of a "celebrity criminal". This sharp edged tale of murder, exploitation and treachery was well ahead of its time in 1975. It works much better after the OJ trial to show the circus like atmosphere presented in 1920's Chicago. Director Karl Pelletier leads his huge cast in this rollicking musical of the 1920's with topnotch choreography by Pam Sheiber and superb dancing that will leave you breathless and entertained on a hot summer night. Their tremendous talent is rewarded by a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call.
Karl is marvelous at blocking this show and he utilizes every bit of space on his set. He sets up the scenes with an eye for creating picture postcard moments constantly, rewarding the audience visually and artistically. Karl closes the show with "All That Jazz", leaving the audience breathless at the expertise of his cast. He is assisted by musical director Charlene Dalrymple who not only conducts the fantastic 10 piece orchestra but obtains great harmonic balance from the talented cast. They capture the 1920's sound, making the audience appreciate all the songs thoroughly. This show is known as a dancing show because the original choreographer was Bob Fosse. This version has its own splendid choreographer in Pam Sheiber who is a fabulous actress and vocalist, too. She has the men and women doing many different types of dance including the Charleston, the shimmie, tap, ballet and other physically demanding ones and keeps the dancers all in unison. Another added feature of this show is the outstanding set by Gary Poholek. The orchestra is onstage in the center area of the set and there are two staircases on both sides of the stage with playing areas below it.
Playing the leading role of Roxie Hart is Lauren McShane. Lauren makes this role her won with her dynamite singing voice, strong acting skills and her accomplished dancing. Her interactions with her fellow cast members is mesmerizing. Lauren's first number is performed while laying on a piano and singing of her love and devotion to her husband, Amos called "Funny Honey" where he is taking the fall for the murder of Fred. But as soon as he starts to spill the beans to the cop about who really killed Fred, she jumps off the piano and calls Amos, her scummy, dummy hubby of mine. Lauren's outstanding numbers are "Roxie Hart" where she sings how famous she will be and dances with the boys as they lift her overhead, sideways and straight up during it and in "Me and My Baby" where she fakes being pregnant so she won't get hung. This number is reminiscent of "Whatever Lola Wants" from "Damn Yankees" and "I'm A Brass Band" from "Sweet Charity". Her fellow inmate, Velma is played by Amanda Arruda who is a whirling dervish while dancing and doing numerous songs in the show. She and the cast open the show with "All That Jazz" a double entendre for music and sex and they carry it off with a high energy that is felt from the start of the show to the very end. Amanda sings and dances excellently as she leads the girls in another dynamite number "Cellblock Tango" where they tell the audience how they killed their husbands and boyfriends. They use chairs as props in this song and each girl strikes a different sexy pose. The vocals and dancing in this song stop the show. Amanda's solos include "I Can't Do It Alone" where she tries to convince Roxie to join her in a sister act and in "When Velma Takes the Stand" where she tells Billy Flynn how she will conduct herself at the trial. The duets with Lauren are "My Own Best Friend" where they realize they have to help themselves survive and "Nowadays" which close the show when they finally realize they need to work together to make it in show biz. Her other duet is "Class" sung with the Matron about people lacking morals and manners when she and Mama are listening to Mary Sunshine on the radio as Velma realizes Roxie stole her dress, her shoes and her routine in the courtroom. Lauren and Amanda play off each other beautifully, creating the strong leads needed to pull off this show.
Gary Poholek is sensational as he plays the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn who gets his clients acquitted for $5000. His first entrance shows Billy is a womanizer when he proclaims "All I Care About" while dancing the chorus girls during it while he poses. Gary's second act number is "Razzle Dazzle" where he explains to the crowd that the judicial system is like a circus, you can get away with anything. His fantastic baritone voice soars in his numbers and his asides to the audience are hilarious, showing his excellence as an actor. This number is one of the best in the show with the other cast members in brightly colored circus attire. In the puppet song, "We Both Reached for the Gun", Gary uses his own voice and a ventriloquists voice while he holds Roxie on his lap while singing her answers to the reporters as the dancers do a Charleston to this number. Gary handles this role with the panache it needs. Katia Hagerman plays the butch matron, Mama Morton. Katia belts out her title song "When Your Good to Mama", showing off her singing voice and does a lovely harmony in "Class" with Velma, too. The sobsister reporter, Mary Sunshine is played in drag by Brian Simons. He shows off a powerful soprano voice in "A Little Bit of Good" where he says how there is a positive side to all people even horrible murderers. His entrance on while flying around the stage like a trapeze artist is hilarious as bubbles are blown onstage during it. Brian does a great job in this humorous role and keeps you guessing what this reporters true agenda really is. Another endearing performer is Michael Lacey as Amos Hart. The audience loves him from the moment he first appears onstage, confessing to a crime he didn't commit, to his last moment when he doesn't get any exit music as he leaves which is par for the course for this schlep. Michael's portrayal of this sad sack guy is fantastic and his solo of "Mr Cellophane" is dynamite, too. Amos is a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson and Michael does a great job in this role. I last reviewed him as Cornelius in "Hello, Dolly" last summer. So for a fantastic rendition of this high energy musical, be sure to catch "Chicago" at Star Players.