Chicago, 4.5 stars
Review by Claudia A. Fox Tree
Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly both want to be the leading actress in Chicago’s headlines and, when they find themselves in jail for murder, they fight for services of the best defense attorney in the city, Billy Flynn. Chicago opens Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston’s 45th anniversary season under the direction and choreography of Gerry McIntyre in the style of Bob Fosse.
The mix of jazz, cabaret, and violence sets the stage for well-known songs, like “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Nowadays,” and “Class.” The band is on stage, like a scene from Benny Goodman, and the actors enter and exit from stairs that are stage left, right, and up the middle between the musicians. The conductor, Jeremy Fenn-Smith, even participates as a listener or narrator in some of the scenes.
Angie Schworer is Roxie Hart, Sara Gettelfinger plays Velma Kelly, Rick Pessagno is Billy Flynn, and Maryann Zschau plays Prison Matron “Mama” Morton. Mama’s system of reciprocity is belted out starting in the house on patrons’ laps, where Zschau’s fantastic voice purrs, “Do a favor for Mama and she’ll do one for you.” She is not Queen Latifah, who played the role in the movie, so get that image out of your head, but she captures the character of the prison system well and has a stunning voice.
Gettelfinger’s Kelly is powerful when she puts forth an “act of desperation” trying to convince Schworer’s Roxie Hart to join her in a duet. How Gettelfinger sings, dances, and still has enough breath to speak her lines is beyond me. Schworer takes us through a love-hate of her and her manipulative waves; at times feeling sorry for her and other times impressed by her willingness to do anything to save her skin. These stars both have singing and dancing skills honed by many professional performances.
The amazingly choreographed dance numbers are riveting; hand movements are just as important as what legs are doing. The vaudeville, roaring twenties, jazz club combination is flirty and fun. As the music starts and stops, the posing and dancing creates a staccato rhythm that forces feet to tap and eyes to dart back and forth. How do you make black costumes interesting? Put the dancers’ legs, arms, and torsos into black lace, fishnets, studs, sparkles, sequins, and transparent fabric and let them show the audience what they got! The dancers are intriguing and interesting to watch from precision moves to leg extensions and ballet. It is a perfect complement to the action and songs. The dancers have plenty of chances to act in the ensemble as well.
Rick Pessagno’s Billy Flynn is slick like an oil spill as he tap dances around the truth. The Las Vegas style white ostrich feather fan dance is a winner, not only because it adds a splash of white to mostly back costuming, but also because it emphasizes Flynn’s seduction of the jury. Pessagno and the ensemble also add color to a dazzling “Razzle Dazzle” rendition.
I always look forward to Cell Block Tango and the Reagle Theater did not disappoint. As the “convicts” show their faces, their cane-backed chairs appear like the bars of a jail cell. The intensity of the tango is sung and danced with emotion and anger, ending in a flippant, often humorous finale as each murderess retells the story of the “dirty bum who had it coming.” Sometimes the anger is more screeching than playful, but the audience still laughs at the humor.
P. Mill sparkles as Ms. Sunshine, the Pollyanna reporter who sees the good in everyone, and is a surprise hit in the role of Mary Sunshine singing an operatic tune and strutting in a blue dress next to the sea of black cabaret outfits or tan trench-coated press conference media.
Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. It is based on a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse and has music by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb. The movie adaptation directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall won six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Chicago is being performed from June 13 to 23, 2013 at Reagle Music Theatre which is located at 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, Mass. Box Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and performance days, 9 a.m. to curtain. For more information, visit Reagle Music Theatre on the web at www.reaglemusictheatre.org.