The razzle and dazzle of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Chicago” has made its way out to Newark as Weathervane Playhouse takes on the classic Bob Fosse choreographed satire on justice and fame.
The popular dance heavy musical has gone through a few incarnations over the years from its flashy Broadway debut in 1975 to the stripped down, jazz club cabaret-style 1996 Broadway revival to Rob Marshall’s critically lauded 2002 film remake.
Weathervane takes its cue from each, providing an amped night of show-stopping vocals and burlesque style dance numbers. A raised platform at the back of the stage houses a horn-heavy orchestra and flashy lighting set the stage for the copiousness of 1920s show business.
The story follows the rise-fall-rise of merry murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, based off characters covered by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins who she immortalized in her popular 1926 play of the same name. Kelly (Sara Michalski) is an already famous vaudeville double act with her sister, who she kills, along with her husband, after she catches them “rehearsing” without her, while Hart (Molly Coyne) jumps from wannabe star to actual star for plugging boyfriend Fred Casely (Ross Lemmon) when he tries to leave her.
If Weathervane’s packed opening is any indication, “Chicago” is still a classic for the ages. And its themes of phony fame an sensationalism have become more relevant than ever, as the American ideal of infamy continues to reach new heights of ridiculous. In a time when clebrity is only a reality show or alleged child killing away, it seems the good ol’ “razzle dazzle” is still all it takes to make a national impact.
The large cast tirelessly plows through the dance heavy show, director/choreographer Scott Keys relies heavily on Fosse’s original vision. This is especially the case during the “All That Jazz” opening and “Razzle Dazzle.” However it does at times feel like the troupe has bit off more than they can chew with the complicated show, showing most during “The Cell Block Tango.” Though the femme fatale themes of a woman scorned are emoted perfectly, it comes off rigid, as if the dancers were still trying get down the moves.
The key players are a delight. Michalski shows fierce animosity as Kelly, the woman Hart’s replaced. Her footwork is impeccable during “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “When Velma Takes the Stand.” And Coyne is pure vamp as the clueless Roxie, heavily showcased during “Roxie” and her interactions with crooked lawyer Billy Flynn (Philip Black). The two are also a force to be reckoned with when they team up during “I’m My Own Best Friend” and the Fosse-tinged finale.
Black is perfectly cast as Flynn who represents both Kelly and Hart. He enters ironically belting “All I Care About Is Love” in his boxers and his swarthy turn as a skilled conductor of the press during “We Both Reached for the Gun” nearly steals the show.
Courtney McClellan sexes up the typically droll Matron Mama Morton, commanding the stage with a fierce strut during “When Your Good To Mama” and adding welcomed flair, like the flash of a little leg here and there, to liven up the character. Her duet with Coyne on “Class” was also one of the night’s major highlights.
Carlos Leon hilariously dons drag and a pitch-perfect operatic tone for pushover reporter Mary Sunshine and Dennis Kohler also shines as Hart’s painfully devoted, droopy-eyed husband Amos.
The band, led by Cheridy Keller, stumbled slightly through the first act but was effortlessly making its way through the catchy Kander/Ebb score by intermission. Renee M. Bell’s costumes did seem a bit conservative for “Chicago’s” sexualized overtones, but adequately represented Prohibition-era Chicago. The set designers (orchestrated by stage manager Owen Beamer) appropriately kept it minimal, leaving room for the large ensemble numbers, often rotating in set pieces from behind a red velvet curtain at one side of the stage.
In the end, Weathervane’s “Chicago” stays true to the original’s core while adding a few modern dalliances, making it an ultimate summer treat for theatergoers.
“Chicago” runs July 28-Aug. 6 at Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road, Newark). Tickets are $14-$26. For more information visit WeathervanePlayhouse.org.
~This post is courtesy of CentralOhioTheatreRoundtable.org