It’s smart, snappy, satirical, sexy, and still relevant 46 years after it first opened on Broadway.
It’s Chicago, and under the inventive direction and choreography of Todd L. Underwood, the Ivoryton Playhouse has pulled off it’s own very entertaining and energetic interpretation of the multiple Tony Award-winning, longest-running American musical revival that’s still being performed on Broadway.
Set in late 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago, Fred Ebb and John Kander (book and music) with Bob Fosse’s classic choreography, worked their magic with a pulled-from-the-headlines story that not only hasn’t changed (minus the end of prohibition) but has in many way escalated in recent years.
Newspaper reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote the play that the musical is based on in 1926, drawn from actual murder trials she had covered, in which the women accused of the crimes became celebrities—at least until the next more sensational crime came along. Sound familiar?
Velma Kelly, played by Stacey Harris, is the celebrity du jour when the play opens. She kicks off the show with the marvelous “And All that Jazz” joined by the full ensemble. She has nice vocal range, but was under-miked and then later, over-miked, but since that early performance the Ivoryton has likely balanced the sound better.
But Velma, who killed her husband and sister after discovering them together in bed, is soon toppled from her perch as celebrity criminal when Roxie Hart, in a glowing performance by Lynn Philistine, “preventively” shoots her lover, Fred Casely (played by Jason Daniel Rath), before he breaks off their romance, duping her dense husband Amos (Ian Greer Shain). Amos tries to take the blame before he figures out she had an affair with Fred.
To add to the tension between the two women, Roxie steals Velma’s hotshot lawyer Billy (Christopher Sutton), Perhaps some of the strong on-stage chemistry between Philistine and Sutton is due to the fact that they’re husband and wife in real life.
Roxie is sent off to Cook County Jail where she joins Velma and the other murderesses in the women’s block where they perform a fabulous “Cell Block Tango” while stripping down to their undergarments. The combination of sexy seductresses, who have no qualms about killing their husbands/lovers who wronged them and no fear of firearms, may feel empowering for women, but in light of the relentless gun deaths to this day in Chicago and throughout the country, it is also somewhat disturbing.
In other supporting roles is Sheniqua Denise Trotman, imposing as the corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton, who presides over the cellblock and sings a knockout “When You’re Good to Mama,” and Z. Spiegel as tabloid reporter Mary Sunshine, who has some trouble with objectivity. Again, sound familiar?
The male and female ensembles nicely complement the main characters with Philistine as the lynch pin holding it all together as the funny, manipulative, attractive Roxie, who displays superb vocals in her many numbers, including “Funny Honey,” “Roxie,” “Me and My Baby,” and “My Own Best Friend”—a duet with Harris as Velma.
Dance numbers replete with Fosse’s signature hand movements are good overall, but not exceptional. The orchestra on stage, directed by Paul Feyer is excellent although set designer Martin Scott Marchitto’s choice to situate the musicians behind bars at the top of the stage—as most of the action takes place in jail—doesn’t do much for the production as a focal point and takes up a lot of the small stage’s visual space.
Elizabeth Cipollina has gone above and beyond with her sumptuous costumes—particularly the women’s outfits—and nicely captures the fun and frivolity of the show as well as the mood of the era.
Performances of Chicago continue through Sunday, July 24 at The Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton. Tickets available by calling 860-767-7318 or visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.