Theatre Mirror Review>"Chicago"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2014 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Welcome to 1920's Chicago, as you enter North Shore Music Theatre's current production, the audience is greeted by prison guards at each entry and after intermission they make wisecracks to get you back in your seats. Director Nick Kenkel transports the audience into the prison atmosphere needed for his blockbuster musical "Chicago". Kander and Ebb's 1975 vaudeville type musical is based on the 1926 play by Maurine Watkins. The 1997 musical version revival won six Tony Awards and the 2003 motion picture version won the Academy Award. In roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless love, Fred Casely and 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 criminal justice and the logic of "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/choreographer Nick Kenkel leads his talented cast in this rollicking musical with his brilliant direction and fabulous choreography with superb dancing that will leave you breathless and entertained all night long.

Nick has Roxie interacting with the audience several times during the show. He starts off the show with the Hungarian inmate Hunyak turning on the radio and dancing to the overture and in the second act dancing to the entracte. She is well played by Lauralyn McClelland who is endearing as the only innocent inmate who gets hung. He is assisted by musical director Dale Rieling who not only conducts a topnotch 11 piece orchestra but obtains amazing harmonic balance from the talented cast, too. Nick's choreography is phenomenal including many different dances including the Charleston, the shimmie, ballet, tap, and other physically demanding ones, while keeping the dancers in perfect unison, too. He utilizes the male dancers in a lot more numbers than usual including the "Cell Block Tango". He also uses colorful costumes and infuses high energy and marvelous insight into these characters. Nick also directed the outstanding NSMT production of "Legally Blonde" back in 2011.

Playing the leading role of Roxie Hart is gorgeous red head, Heather Parcells. Heather makes the part her own with her dynamite singing voice, strong acting skills and her accomplished dancing. She is a much better Roxie than Gwen Verdon who I saw in the original Broadway show in 1976. Her interactions with her fellow cast mates are mesmerizing. Heather's first number is performed while laying on the stage, singing of her love and devotion for her husband, Amos called "Funny Money". He is taking the rap for her but as soon as he starts to spill the beans about who really killed Fred, she jumps up and calls him my scummy, crummy hubby of mine. Heather's standout numbers are "Roxie Hart" where she sings about how famous she'll be as she dances up a storm with her boys 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". She performs it with two chorus boys wearing diapers. They are Tim McGarrigal and Ian Campayno who have chiseled abs and look like no babies anyone has ever seen. This number stops the show with hilarity. Heather tugs at your heartstrings with a tearful rendition of "Nowadays". Brava!

Roxie's fellow inmate Velma is wonderfully played by Bahiyah Hibah who is a whirling dervish while dancing and singing various numbers in this show. She and the cast open with a sizzling "All That Jazz", a double entendre for music and sex. This number sets the bar for the rest of this high energy musical. Bahiyah leads the girls in another show stopper, "Cell Block Tango" where they explain how they killed their husbands and boyfriends. They use the men when they sing their different verses killing them onstage and dancing up a storm during it, too. Her solos include "I Can't Do It Alone"where she tries to convince Roxie to join her in a sister act and in "Velma Takes the Stand" where she tells Billy Flynn how she'll conduct herself at the trial. The male chorus backs her up in this number. Bahiyah's duets with Heather include "My Own Best Friend" where they realize they only have themselves to depend on and "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 its brilliant rendition. Her other duet is "Class" with the Matron as they listen to Mary Sunshine on the radio describe what Roxie is doing in the courtroom, having stolen her dress, shoes and routine. Bahiyah and Heather play off each other beautifully, creating the strong leads for this show.

Sean McDermott 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 is a womanizer, too. Sean's second act number is "Razzle Dazzle" where he explains the judicial system is like a circus, you can get away with anything. This song is one of the best harmonic blends with the chorus dressed in colorful circus outfits. His terrific baritone voice soars in his numbers and he also shines in the puppet number "We Both Reached for the Gun" where he uses his own voice and a ventriloquist's voice with Roxie on his lap as he sings her answers to the reporters. The chorus does an energetic Charleston during it. Sean handles the role with the panache it needs and is one of the best Billy Flynn's I've seen after the incomparable Jerry Orbach.The butch matron is excellently played by Liz McCartney. She belts out her title song "When You're Good to Mama" with the gusto it needs and sings a lovely harmony with Velma in "Class" which brings down the house with sustained laughter. Her voice is fantastic. The sobsister reporter, Mary Sunshine is played in drag by C. Simmons. He is a hoot in this role and displays his strong falsetto in "A Little Bit of Good" where he sings there is good in everyone including murderers. Another endearing performer is Nick Kohn as Amos Hart. The audience loves him from his first moment on stage, confessing to a crime he didn't commit until his last moment when he doesn't get any exit music. This is par for the course with this schlep and the audience can really empathize with him at Roxie's final rejection. Nick's portrayal of this sad sack, Amos is fantastic and his rendition of "Mr. Cellophane" is dynamite, too. He does a dance in his song with the chorus. Kudos to the male and female dancers for their terrific work in this dancing show. They receive a well deserved standing ovation at the close of the show. So for a phenomenal rendition of this musical, be sure to catch "Chicago" at NSMT before the box office is sold out. This is my 10th year of reviewing musicals at NSMT. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Chicago" (23 September - 5 October)
@ 62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide