Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Welcome to the 1920’s with the current musical at Footlights at the Grange. Director/choreographer Brian Barry Pereira transports the audience to the prison atmosphere needed for this terrific blockbuster musical “Chicago.” Kander and Ebb’s 1975 vaudeville type show is based on the 1926 play by Maurine Watkins. The 1997 musical version won six Tony Awards and the 2003 movie version won the Academy Award.
In roaring twenties Chicago, married chorine, Roxie Hart murders her faithless lover, Fred Casely and convinces her hapless husband, Amos to take the rap for her. That is until he finds out he has been duped and turns on her. She and fellow murderess, Velma Kelly, both on death row, vie for the headlines and spotlight, hoping the publicity will launch them to fame, freedom and successful stage careers with the help of slick lawyer, Billy Flynn. The story is a satire on the corruption of criminal justice system and logic of “celebrity criminal” and works perfectly in the current day situation of this country. Keep them off balance and they won’t realize what is really going on. It also worked much better in the late 1990’s after the OJ trial travesty which was a lot like the circus like atmosphere of Chicago in the 1920’s. Barry blocks the show beautifully and creates magnificent choreography that knocks your socks off and directs this show brilliantly. He brings out the best in his talented cast members from start to finish.
This rollicking musical is musically directed by Kasey Jeronimo who obtains strong vocals from cast members especially in group numbers “Cell Block Tango”, “Reached for the Gun”, “When Velma Takes the Stand” and “Razzle Dazzle” which could be the theme song for current America. Barry’s outstanding dance numbers include the Charleston, jazz, tap and other physically demanding ones with the chorus in perfect unison. He also uses colorful costumes at time for various characters which give the show the pizzazz it needs. Costumes are by Johnny Cagno and the brilliant colorful lighting design is by Neil Jeronimo.
Playing Roxie is 17 year old Julia Ahaesy clad in a red wig. Her vocal numbers are “Funny Honey” which sings about Amos, “Roxie” when she wants to be famous and get her name in the papers, “Me and My Baby” where she fakes being pregnant and “Nowadays” where she proclaims things are going to change in 50 years or so. Roxie’s fellow inmate Velma is magnificently played by Nicole Piona. She makes the part her own with her dynamite singing voice, her strong acting skills and her accomplished dancing. Nicole and the cast open the show with a sizzling “All That Jazz” that sets the bar high for the rest of this high energy show. She then leads them in a show stopping song and dance with chairs to “Cell Block Tango” where they all explain how they killed their husbands and significant others. Her mesmerizing solos include “I Can’t Do It Alone” where she tries to convince Roxie to join her act and in “When Velma Takes the Stand” where Velma tells Billy how she will act during the trial and Nicole’s backed up by the chorus. Her duets are the hilarious and uproarious “Class” with Momma which left the audience in stitches and the scintillating “Nowadays” dance with Julia which closes the show.
Tyler Rowe is marvelous as the money grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn who gets $5000 for getting his clients off the hook whether guilty or not. He delivers one of his best performances in this role. His first entrance stuns the audience with a strong “All I Care About”, his best number is “Both Reached for the Gun” where he uses Roxie as a puppet on his lap singing her alibi to the newspaper reporters and in “Razzle Dazzle” where he explains just keep them all off balance and you can get away with anything at all, up to and including murder. Lisa Reimer is excellent as the matron, Momma Morton. She enters with a cigar which is a hoot and gives the role the gusto it needs. Lisa is strong actress and her fabulous voice sells “When You’re Good to Mama” winning much laughter and applause. As does “Class” her duet with Nicole.
The sobsister reporter, Mary Sunshine is hilariously played by Nathaniel James LeBoeuf, dressed in drag. A sophomore in high school but has played demanding roles like the Man in the Chair in “Drowsy Chaperone” and this is one more feather in his cap. His falsetto soars in “Little Bit of Good” and he also plays a dancing chorus member. The most sympathetic character is Amos Hart played terrifically by Jason Trenholm. The audience loves him from the first time they see him confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, taking verbal abuse from others and finally not getting his exit music at the end. His “Mr. Cellophane” number is fantastic and his portrayal of this schlep from start to finish is dynamite, too. I have fond memories of this show, having seen the original musical with Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach on Broadway back in 1976. Bravo to one and all on a sensational job on this high energy musical which receives a well deserved standing ovation at the curtain call.
CHICAGO (2 to 5 November)
Footlights at the Grange, 65 Milford Road, Swansea, MA
1(774)644-4539 or www.footlightsrep.net