CHICAGO – theatre review

Players by the Sea opened its 45th season with the award-winning musical by Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander that has attained worldwide fame since it debuted in 1975. Chicago has been performed in 26 countries and some nine languages and revivals are still running on Broadway and in London.
Players’ production of this beloved show is truly captivating and one not to be missed if you are a musical theatre fan. This prohibition-era tale is based on a true story from a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who covered the actual incidents.
Leading lady Roxie Hart shoots her lover, and then tries to talk her wimpy husband Amos into taking the blame. When that fails and she finds herself in prison, she realizes she must find a way to win an acquittal to escape execution by hanging. She hires a cut throat lawyer, Billy Flynn, who has successfully defended a number of clients. Prison inmate Velma Kelly is a current client, who believes tricks of the trade will clear her of a double murder charge. Roxie and Velma battle each other for media attention in hopes of getting public sympathy for their cases.
Chicago has a lot of dance (with wonderful choreography by Ellie Potts Barrett who was inspired by Bob Fosse’s original work) with lots of clever songs but it is an adult show since it is about murder, adultery, sex, and violence. Despite its obvious darkness, it is a fun show with never a dull moment. The excellent direction by Lee Hamby is fast paced and has an outstanding cast.
The Band is also excellent and right in your face, on stage, sitting stadium style, as a part of the show. Led by Musical Director Laura Peden on Keyboard, they include Landon Baker (Percussion), Michael Emmert (Saxophone), Damon Martin (Bass), and Matthew Spiegel (Trumpet).
The set designed by Joe Schwartz and Lee Hamby is outlined with light bulbs and features the bandstand in black, and wide open spaces with deep red flooring for all that terrific dancing. Some set pieces are brought on, like bentwood chairs and a table, and the bars for “Cell Block Tango.”
The costume design by Sarah Marino has the cast mostly in creative outfits of black, with occasional pops of red, and for the women, lots of fishnet stockings and very high heels.
Acting as Emcee, the tuxedoed Jonathan Ross kept the show moving with his excellent introductions.
The two leading ladies, Velma (Lizzie Solms) and Roxie (Staci Cobb) are fabulous. The vampy style of Velma and the tarnished innocence of Roxie come through in their many solos, and they blend together beautifully in three dynamite duets, the best being “My Own Best Friend.” These truly professional performers can sing and dance with the best of them.
Playing the outrageous lawyer Billy Flynn is the amazing Joe Walz, certainly the most prolific actor in Jacksonville. He goes from show to show and musical or drama, he does it all. He had a major role in The Lonesome West while rehearsing for Chicago.
Tracy Olin as the earthy Matron “Mama” Morton wows the audience with “When You’re Good to Mama,” and in Act II sings a duet with Velma in a song with absolutely no class, entitled “Class.”
As Mary Sunshine, a newspaper reporter, H. L. Gonzalez Toro displays a wonderfully trained coloratura mezzo-soprano voice in “A Little Bit of Good.”
Evan Gould as Amos Hart, Roxie’s husband, sings one of the most popular songs in “Mr. Cellophane,” with humility as well as humor.
The Girls sing and dance up a storm at the drop of a hat and include Kim Cooper-York, Cindy Kidder, Janaye Rogers, Chelsae Newberry, Jocelyn Geronimo and McCall Collard. The very busy ensemble and pit chorus included Ilana Gould, Dave Garrett, Rico Downey, Anthony Sampson, Kyle Winn, and Daniel Prill.
Eleven of the cast of eighteen were making their Players by the Sea debuts, bringing with them a wealth of theatrical experience.
There are twenty songs in this show, and many of them are show stoppers and have lyrics that move the story along in a most unusual way. Most of the actors are miked and thanks go to Sound Technician Patrick Richart for making it possible for us to hear everyone loud and clear. The dynamic light design is by Jim Wiggins, with Lindsay Curry as stage manager.
Chicago is the fourth longest running on Broadway and of course it is still running. An Academy Award winning film was made in 2002, and if you have seen the movie you will want to see this polished production.