Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Chicago"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Theatre-by-the-Sea's second show of their 70th season is Kander and Ebb's 1975 vaudeville type musical "Chicago". Based on the 1926 play by Maurine Watkins, the musicl version revival in 1997 won six Tony awards while the movie version won the best picture Oscar this year. In roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless lover, Fred Casely. She and fellow murderess, Velma Kelly vie for the spotlight and headlines, hoping the publicity will launch them to fame, freedom and successful stage careers. Director/choreographer Brett Smock leads his 17 member cast in this rollicking musical of the 1920's with superb dancing that will leave you breathless and entertained on a hot summer night.

Brett utilizes the two story set wonderfully with cast members entering and exiting throughout the whole area, having cast members slide down a fire pole including Roxie, Billy and Mary Sunshine. His choreography is a mixture of different dances including the Charleston with some Fosse type movements which his talented cast handles with ease. Brett lives in LA but will be busy directing this summer in Upstate New York, New Hampshire and Texas. He is assisted in this show by musical director, Tim Robertson who leads the onstage orchestra wonderfully in one hit song after another while also playing the keyboards. He is the musical director at RIC and was the pianist at Trinity for "Annie" this season and "My Fair Lady" in 2000. The two story set is by Jeff Modereger with lighting by Kenton Yeager who use the red and blue lighting to set the mood for the various scenes. The multitude of sexy black costumes are by Laura Simcox with the sound by Walter Trarbach who keeps all the bodymikes in topnotch working condition.

Playing the leading role of Roxie Hart is Kendra Madigan who played the role before at Merry Go Round Playhouse in Auburn, NY.(Brett is the resident director/choreographer there.) Her dancing is so good that the audience won't want to miss a step she takes. Kendra's various numbers include "Funny Honey" where she sings about her dumb hubby, Amos, "Roxie" where she sings of her future fame in a dynamite number with her six dancing boys who not only dance up a storm but lift her and throw her around during it and "Me and My Baby" where she makes up a story about being pregnant so she won't get hung while she and 2 of her boys, Kevin Steele and Kevin Dunnigan dance excellently in it. Her fellow inmate, Velma is played by Robin Levine, a leggy, buxom blonde who stepped into the role in only 10 hours, having to replace Katie Cameron who broke her foot at the end of Act 1 at the Wednesday night show after doing "I Can't Do It Alone". (Some of the audience got to hear Katie's rendition of "All That Jazz" at the cabaret which showed off her great belting voice.) However Robin makes this role her own with her own dynamic vocals and strong acting ability. The opening number, "All That Jazz" with Robin and the chorus singing and dancing starts the show off on the high energy needed to pull it off. The next hit song is the "Cell Block Tango" with the 5 other murderess' on death row where they use chairs in their dance. Her best number is "When Velma Takes the Stand" which is done in a whirlwind song & dance number with the 6 boys that is exhilarating. Robin sells her solo "I Can't Do It Alone" and also does well in "Nowadays" with Roxie and "Class" with Mama. This version closes with "All That Jazz" as the finale, giving it the strong musical punch necessary to please the crowd with the familiar melody.

Christopher Carl who looks like a young version of Robert Urich, plays the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn who gets his clients acquitted for $5000. His first entrance also shows he is a womanizer when he proclaims "All I Care About" while he slips the chorus girls a feel during it while he flexes and poses and in his second act number, "Razzle Dazzle", he explains to the crowd that the judical system is like a circus, you can get away with anything. Christopher's fantastic tenor voice soars in his numbers and his asides to the audience are a lot of fun, showing his excellence as an actor, too. But it is in "We Both Reached for the Gun", one of the best numbers in the show that he uses his own voice and a ventriloquists voice while he holds Roxie on his lap while singing her answers to the reporters. Christopher handles this role with the panache it needs. Veteran actress Margery Beddow plays the buxom butch matron, Mama Morton. (Margery looks like a blond, Gwen Verdon who she understudied in "Redhead" on Broadway.)She plays the role in a more motherly type fashion but still is tough with her girls when they owe her money for her favors. Margery belts out her title song, "When Your Good To Mama" and does a pretty harmony in "Class" with Velma. She is not only a talented actress but is the author of "Bob Fosse's Broadway". Another dynamite performer in this show is R. Lowe as Mary Sunshine, the sobsister reporter. R.'s operatic soprano soars off the charts in "A Little Bit of Good". This feat is even more amazing with R. tripping around the stage going up via the stairs and down the firepole while continually singing the song. The added romantic overtures between Mary and Billy is a hoot throughout the show with an unexpected smooch thrown in as the piece de resistance of laughter. Jim Ferris who is in his 30's is from Bridgeport, CT. He plays the sympthetic Amos Hart who sings about never being noticed by anyone including his parents. His rendition of "Mr. Cellophane" is a crowd pleaser where his dressed like a bum ala Charlie Chaplin. Jim shows off more of his sining prowess in the after the show Cabaret, using a powerful tenor voice range. One of the other hilarious roles is played by Kevin Steele as the 12 jurors. His various guises include a nun, a nerd who waves his hanky at Roxie, a man who picks his nose and another who pukes in a bag. Kevin is also a fabulous dancer who stretches his acting muscles as well in this role.

The other talented singing and dancing chorus members include Reed Davis as Fred Casely, (he is another great dancer who shows his acting chops in this role with his death, bedroom and second act scenes where Roxie distorts the facts especially funny is his trying to pick up one of the women in the show by winking at her and wanting her phone number) Laurena Barros, ( who showed off her fantastic voice in the caberet with "Keepin Out of Mischief". She and Reed also understudied for the first show at TBTS and will be in "The Secret Garden" TBTS' third show.) Emily McNamara, (who played the gumchewing baliff and Liz) Carissa Lopez, (June) Michelle Ouellette, (Mona) Julie Tomaino (Hunyak) (who also stepped into her role quickly and does a great job in this sympathetic part) Leo Ash Evens ( who is only 23, shows off his acting skills as the hardboiled Sgt. Fogarty at the start of the show and the losing prosecutor, Harrison in the trial scene, Gadi Schor (Judge), Kevin Dunnigan (Aaron, Hunyak's uncaring lawyer) and Tim McGarrigal (a redhead who plays a variety of roles including a reporter.) The new host of the cabaret after the show is Rhode Island's Frank O'Donnell who is a stand up comic. He kept the Cranston girls who own Joyce's pub in Matunuck in line as well as King Kielbasa also a native from Matunuck in check. The other two people were King Viagra from Willimantic, CT and Don Jacobson and his wife, Carol from Worcester. Frank handled the jokes with ease and had a a rapport with the vocalists, too. The cabaret pianist is Natasha Ullman, a student of longtime musical director, Karl Shymanovitz from the University of Michigan. Press night festivities wouldn't be complete without the excellent food of Duane Crowe. This time he served mixed greens, chicken salad, hot chicken wings, pasta salad, shrimp, rolls and assorted desserts. Once again Duane, his lovely wife, Carleen and son, Adam and the whole wait staff kept everyone pleased with their attentive service, creating the ideal atmosphere for an after the show soiree. So for a funfilled evening by the lovely seashore, be sure to catch "Chicago" before it is too late.

"Chicago" ( 24 June - 19 July)
364 Card's Pond Road, MATUNUCK, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 782-8587

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide