Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Chicago"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"Chicago"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Academy Players closing show of their 47th season 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 picture this year. 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. It works much better after the OJ trail to show the circus like atmosphere presented in 1920's Chicago. Director Mike Farrelly takes his 24 member cast and leads them in a top notch professional production that at times is far superior to the 1975 Broadway version, making it one of the must see shows this season.

Mike is an expert at blocking a show, utilizing every bit of space on the two story set. He sets up the scenes with an eye for creating picture postcard moments constantly, rewarding the audience visually and artistically. Mike is a veteran director and this show demonstrates his capabilities in handling a very difficult and technical endeavor with ease. He is assisted by musical director, Scott Morency who not only leads the 8 piece orchestra but also taught all the musical numbers to this talented cast. They capture the 1920's sound, making the audience appreciate all the songs to the maximum degree. This show is known as a dancing show because the original choreographer was Bob Fosse. This version has its own splendid, choreographer in Jaci Marfuggi, a sophmore at URI who hails from New Jersey. She has the men and women doing so many different types of dance including the Charleston, the shimmie and other physically demanding ones and keeping them all in unison. Jaci also plays one of the murderesses in the show, doing double duty and doing both wonderfully. Another added feature of this show is the outstanding two story set by Anthony Prichard. The orchestra is onstage in the center area on the second tier of the set and there are two staircases on both sides of the stage with three different playing areas below it. Anthony also designed the lights for the Chicago sign above the band and the red Roxie sign as well as white lights on the stairways with red and blue thrown in for the closing flag waving scene. Dennis Pouilot runs the stage lighting and the various colored lights, too. Also very impressive are the black scantily clad costumes for the women. The men are also in black but a lot of colorful costumes are thrown in as a contrast to the black background, helping the characters stand out. Costumer Bob DeMattio excels with all his creations especially the ostrich feathers for the Billy scene. His eye for detail stands out by hand picking the best colors and costumes for each person. Producer Jay Marchetti and Mike set high standards for this harding working cast and crew with the end results being a fantastic presentation. Bravo.

Playing the leading role of Roxie Hart is Taryn Mallard-Reid who plays this role better than Gwen Verdon did when I saw her in it in 1976. Taryn makes this role her own with her dynamite singing voice, her strong acting skills and her accomplished dancing which makes her a triple threat performer. She wears a red wig thorughout the show and her interactions with her fellow cast members is mesmorizing. Taryn's first number is performed while sitting on a piano singing of her love and devotion to her husband, Amos called "Funny Honey" where he is taking the fall for her 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, climbs down the stairs and calls her scummy, dummy hubby of mine. Taryn's outstanding numbers are "Roxie Hart" where she sings about how famous she will be and dances with the boys (they lift her overhead sideways and straight up during this number) and in "Me and My Baby" where she fakes being pregnant so she won't get hung, also with the boys who are dressed up as little kids in different colored jerseys and knickers. (The Roxie number is reminiscent of "Whatever Lola Wants" from "Damn Yankees" and "I'm A Brass Band" from "Sweet Charity") Brava. Her fellow inmate, Velma is played by RIC graduating senior, Joanna Scoggins who is a whirling dervish while dancing and doing numerous songs in the show. She and the cast open it with "All That Jazz" (a double entendre for music and sex) with a high energy that is carried from the start of the show to end. Joanna dances excellently and she leads another dynamite number with the girls in "Cellblock Tango" where they tell the audience how they killed their husbands and boyfriends. They use chairs as props in this scene and each girl strikes a different sexy pose and the vocal and dancing of this song are fantastic. Joanna's solos include "I Can't Do It Alone" and "When Velma Takes the Stand". (In the former she tries to convince Roxie to join her in a sister act and in the latter she tells Billy Flynn how she will conduct herself at her trial.) The duets with Taryn are "My Own Best Friend" and "Nowadays" which closes the show when they finally realize they need to work together to make it in show biz. Her best duet is "Class" sung with the Matron about people lacking morals and manners. What a hoot! (She and Mama are listening to Mary Sunshine on the radio when Velma realizes Roxie stole her dress, her shoes and her routine in the courtroom.) Joanna and Taryn play off each other beautifully, creating the strong leads needed to pull off this show.

Wayne Alan Hawkins plays the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn. He's a tough lawyer who gets his clients acquitted for $5000, but at his first entrance he proclaims "All He Cares About" is love (this song is a Bing Crosby type crooner tune) and later before the trial he says the law system is a circus and all you need to get off is to "Razzle Dazzle" them, keeping them off balance. (Like numerous current day proceedings where the press distorts the facts especially the OJ trial which was a travesty of justice.) Wayne is a fabulous actor and singer who really gets a chance to show off in the puppet song, "We Both Reached for The Gun". He holds Roxie on his lap and sings her answers to the press as well as his own. Wayne handles the back and forth voice changes as well as the tongue tripping lyrics with ease. Betty Nolan plays the butch prison matron powerfully. She does a great job in her scenes with the girls especially when she is squeezing the money from them. Betty knocks the audiences socks off in "When You're Good to Mama" as she belts the number directly out to the crowd. What a voice this woman has and she does a great harmony in "Class" with Velma, too. Betty also has a touching moment with the Hungarian, (Sarah Bilofsky),while she protects her from her badgering lawyer, Aaron (Brad Kirton.) (Well acted scene.) Another endearing performer is Neil Santoro as Amos Hart. The audience loves him from the moment he first appears onstage, confessing to a crime he didn't commit, to the last moment when he doesn't get any exit music as he leaves which is par for the course for this schlep. Neil's portrayal of this sad sack guy is fantastic and his solo of "Mr Cellophane" is dynamite, too. He is a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson while dressed in Bozo type shoes, red nose and long tie. Great job! The sobsister reporter, Mary Sunshine is played by R. Bento who uses a powerful singing voice in "A Little Bit of Good". In this soprano number, R. sings about how there is a postive side to all people even horrible murderers. R. does a great job in this humorous role and keeps you guessing what this reporters true agenda really is. Another hilarious role is the juror played by Justin Clemente who plays the entire jury while he keeps ducking down and changing into another one constantly. (Justin is also fantastic dancer who appeared in Ireland in a touring company of "Rent".) One of the funniest is the blind man who tries to slip Roxie a feel and he ends up falling out of the jury box as well as the sock puppets, too. This mockery of the judical system is a hoot and keeps the audiences in stiches.

The other multitalented cast members include David Melton as Fred Casely, (who has some funny moments in bed with Roxie and at the trial doing some hilarious pelvic thrust while she distorts the actual events) Ed Carusi as Sgt. Fogarty, Dana Damiani as Annie, Jackie Granja as June, Bethany Giammarco as Mona, Elena Sloop, Danielle Towne and Janette Delmonico as Cell Block Girls, Amanda Castore as Go to hell Kitty, Ian Richardson as Harry, Bob DeMattio as Doctor, James Calitri as Martin Harrison, Ryan Romanowski as the Judge and Stephen Michelson as Court Clerk. So for a very impressive and outstanding musical, be sure to catch Academy Players' "Chicago". You will leave the theatre humming and singing many of the show stopping songs.

"Chicago" (9 - 18 May )
ACADEMY PLAYERS
Odeum Theatre, Main Street, EAST GREENWICH, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401)885-6910

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