I never really know how "Chicago" is going to play out when I sign up for another look at this award-winning musical. Rest assured, the show now on stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina is one of the best productions I've experienced. From the overture and words of the master of ceremonies, Jaquez Andre Sims, to the last collective bow, this generous musical comedy features a terrific team of performers. It is exhaustingly energetic and ridiculously diverting.
Though popularly received when the show opened on Broadway in 1975, it wasn't until it was revived in 1996 that it won six Tony Awards. Then in 2002, "Chicago" turned up again, this time as an Academy-Award winning film -- because a good story is a good story.
Roxie (Caitlin Carter) is a vaudeville performer with dreams of the big time. She has just shot and killed her boyfriend and has been put in jail. Her simple but well-meaning husband, Amos (James Michael Reilly), is determined to prove her innocence ... seriously. Her infamous attorney, Billy Flynn (David Sattler), is sleazy, peazy and interested only in fame, money and women -- in that order. He is Roxie's only hope. It's Flynn who sings the well-known "All I Care About is Love." Yeah, right.
The performance "All that Jazz" happens fast, and it is glamorous, musically vibrant, even fizzy. "Cell Block Tango" introduces us to our murderesses, Roxie's cell mates. Each is fantastic as she presents her version of the unusual circumstances resulting in her unfortunate outcome. Topping the list of affronters is Velma Kelly (Jessica Lea Patty) who, we're sorry to hear, is a husband and sister killer. But that's not the worst news for Roxie. Velma is a competing vaudevillian. To make matters worse, she has enlisted the services of Mama Morton (Sue Mathys), the matron, who clearly has a plan of her own, all related to her own profit margin.
There is amazing singing and dancing, shimmying and shaking. Mathys' performance of "When You're Good to Mama" says it all.
After we hear that bad news, Mary Sunshine (C.M. Bell), a reporter whom Roxie counts on to promote her cause and her celebrity, reminds us all that there is a "Little Bit of Good" in everyone.
"We Both Reached for the Gun," which features Billy, Roxie, Mary Sunshine and company, will live in my memory forever. Billy and Roxie are trying to put their strategies in place, so picture this: Roxie, sitting on Billy's lap, in something of ventriloquist mode, postures, kind of blank faced, a full-sized puppet, mouthing his words, while he, hand on her back as though manipulating her mouth, delivers them.
What takes this off the hook is Roxie's slackened body, her flailing arms, her head bobby and rolling. So, so funny.
Another show-stopping moment comes when Amos (Billy calls him Andy) sings the famous "Mr. Cellophane." He is a knockout as he moves alone on the stage, in his flapping clown shoes and hat with a bright pinkish flower bobbing all around. Even the lighting technician misses him with the spotlight. Poignant, funny, spot on.
Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse wrote the book, and their magic touch is completely palpable through the course of our show. You can almost feel Fosse in the wings. With music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb firmly in place, the show rocks.
Cheers to director/choreographer Russell Garrett, whose work we have enjoyed over the years, and to musical director Bradley Vieth. They took this glittery show around the bend.
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard has spent her life portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles, and for the past 30 years in the Lowcountry.