Thursday September 21st 2017

“Chicago”

Highly Recommended **** Leave it to Drury Lane Oakbrook, a Chicago landmark theater, to do a new version of “Chicago” the musical as pert of their 2017/2018 season. Over the years, I have seen countless productions of this Award Winning musical, and in most cases, they have always followed the original pattern. The story is simple: It is Chicago during the “Roaring-Twenties” and we get to watch women who kill people prepare for their trials with a flim-flam attorney. The book was written by Bob Fosse ( a Chicago treasure) and Fred Ebb with the music by Ebb and the music by John Kander. The story is based on a non-musical play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins with some script adaptations by David Thompson.

In previous productions, the musicians are on the stage for the entire production with the orchestra leader serving as part-time narrator, and all the action takes place in front of or between the two sections of the orchestra. Drury Lane, under the careful eye of Director William Osetek, decided to play this a little differently, so they had Kevin Depinet do a set that allowed actors/performers to come from the floor “up” or from the “balconies” down. They use a fire-man type pole to do this, quite effectively. The orchestra, under the direction of Chris Sargent) is back in the pit, but Sargent does do some “schtick”. They have also added a center stage unit which looks like a balcony where our Master of Ceremonies is planted (Michael Accardo). I need to point out that while he is great, there are some times when having him move about is a bit distracting. Try not to watch him unless he is speaking. It will make the production better.

Part of the allure of “Chicago” is the original direction and choreography that Fosse created. In fact, many of his trademark steps and looks continue to be used by other choreographers and probably will forever. In this production, Jane Lanier  uses some of the basic moves, but in other places modifies them to add her own “signature”. I missed the true “Fossee-Feel” that I amused to. In this version, the men are not dressed in tight black pant, some shirtless, others in T’s (also black) and bowlers or hats. Instead, they are dressed as reporters in ties and shirts. In fact, the blackness of Fosse’s concept gets lost a bit as even the prisoners are in more colorful garb , with black underneath.

For those who do not know the story, it is one of crime, but in this case, crime does pay! Crimes have always been committed, and here in “Chicago”, they sell newspapers (this is in the 20’s-no TV or Internet) and make people listen to the radio. Our story revolves around Velma Kelly (the tall, voluptuous Alena Watters) who is in jail awaiting her trial and in all the headlines of all the papers…until Roxie Hart (a dynamic Kelly Felthous) kills her lover (Alejandro Fonseca, who also does some ensemble spots) and is put in prison, stealing the headlines from Velma.

Roxie is told by the prison matron, Mama Morton ( E. Faye Butler, a Chicago favorite struts her stuff to new heights) that she can get a great lawyer, get off, and get a career in show-biz.  The attorney, Billy Flynn ( deftly handled by Guy Lockard, who is the first African-American I have seen do this role)  is more of a show-biz flim-flam man than an attorney.Lockhard shows style and grace in bringing  this character to life. Roxie learns to play by his rules and even to exceed his ideas, but has her problems in maintaining the headlines when the next murder is committed. SO, why not have a baby? This draws the attention back to her, but also brings back her husband, a shy, quiet man named Amos Hart ( Justin Brill brings a new dimension to this character, including his marvelous rendition of “Mister Cellophane”).

Incidently, the song list in this show is one of the reasons for the awards; “All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango” (the girls are great, and very sexy), “When You’re Good To Mama” (E. Faye surely gets it!), “Roxie”, “Me and My Baby”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Class”, “Nowadays” and of course “A Little Bit Of Good” (as handled  by  J. London as Mary Sunshine). One good song leads to another and the dance numbers are sensational. Jane, you nailed it! The musical direction by Roberta Duchak was once again “spot-on” as always. A lot of the ensemble members are newbies to Drury Lane, one in particular, a familiar face at Black Ensemble Theater, Rueben D. Echoles (great to see you spread your wings), and others such asJessica Blair, Lauren Nicole Blane, Brian M. Duncan, Rachel Hafell, Allyson Graves, Michael Samarie George, Erica Evans, Matt Casey, Daniel Hurst, Amy Biddle Owens, Jay Reynolds Jr., Haley Schneider and Aaron Umsted. This is a solid cast of talented performers who do it all..and well!

The costumes by Sully Ratke were a bit more colorful than normal and the lighting by Lee Fiskness well done. Ray Nardelli’s sound was great having talked to people in several portions of the venue (they all heard every word) and Cassy Schillo handled the props to perfection.This is a new staging concept and while I felt uncomfortable with a few sections, overall, I think it was nice to see something a little different. After seeing countless productions that were one-like-other, a change of scenery (so to speak). A special not about Ms Lanier. She was trained by Fosse, understood who and what he was, and while she did a few things  her way, instead of his, the heart and soul of Fosse was in every step that each dancer took.

“Chicago” will continue at Drury Lane 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook thru June 18th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays  1:30 p.m.

Thursdays  1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  5  and 8:30 p.m.

Sundays  2  and  6 p.m. (except June 18th-no evening)

Tickets range in price from $45-$60 (with dinner and show packages slightly higher)

they can be ordered by calling 1-630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.DruryLaneTheatre.com

Plenty of FREE parking on the property as well as Valet

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Chicago” the Musical.

 

Leave a Comment

ITEX.com

More from category

“The Rembrandt”
“The Rembrandt”

Recommended ***  Have you ever thought about what might happen if you were to touch a museum work of art, just to see [Read More]

” A New Brain”
” A New Brain”

Highly Recommended ***** When asked how I come to rate a production, I try to explain that the beauty of a production [Read More]

“The 39 Steps” reviewed by Jacob Davis
“The 39 Steps” reviewed by Jacob Davis

Highly Recommended ***** You don’t need to know Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film The 39 Steps to find Patrick [Read More]

“Five Guys Named Moe” reviewed by Michael Horn
“Five Guys Named Moe” reviewed by Michael Horn

The Court Theatre opens its 63rd season with “Five Guys named Moe”; a lively musical tribute to the hit songs of [Read More]

“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

in 1884, Mark Twain wrote a novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, bringing the South and its [Read More]