Chicago Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by John DiDonna
Choreography by Eric Yow
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes
Starring Rachel Taylor Reese, Nicole Visco, Johmichael McDonald, and Natalie Schneider
Valencia College Theatre, Orlando Fl</strong>
Casey Anthony didn’t invent the art of slipping out of a tight spot, but she got the sort of publicity Roxie Hart (Visco) could only dream about. Back in the days of jazz and liquor America’s underbelly of corruption surfaced in spades, all that do-good Progressive Reform politics of the early 20th century drown in a pool of alcohol and blood during prohibition. Our femme fatale dreams of a vaudeville gig like the Kardashians have and the only thing standing in her way is her likeable loveable husband Amos (Kevin Sigman) and her less likeable lover Fred Casely. Bang bang and a botched alibi and Roxie is in the can under Mama Morton (Schneider) and in a publicity war with her artistic idol Velma Kelly (Rees) who shot her husband AND her sister. Talk about One-upmanship. Whether this is all real or just a fantasy in Roxie’s jazz addled imagination the girls compete for the attentions of super lawyer Billy Flynn (McDonald) as he plays the press for everyone’s benefit except his clients. Getting famous and getting rich are two vastly different things, and the Cook County courts are much more profitable stage than the gin halls of the South Side.
We start the show with the cast warming up, mugging at the audience and flirting with their dates of either gender. The real performance begins when the big marquee rises to the fly loft and a seven piece band strikes up somewhere in the upstage shadows. You’ve heard the songs, its jazz as we wish we remembered it and Freddy’s dead so soon he doesn’t even get a credit. Roxie is much more conniving and calculating her than in the movie, she scared but clever and that’s a dangerous comb. The perkier Velma and she scuffle as Mama Morton takes a cut from each side; she’s the dominatrix who doesn’t need to wear the heels to get submission from the weak. Our Billy Flynn isn’t quite up to the “If the glove fits…” level of stage lawyering, but he’s a decent dancer and has a nice voice. The good songs here are the one you ought to love anyway: Sigman’s pained “Mr. Cellophane”, Roxie’s self-titled anthem” and Flynn’s pivotal “Press Conference Rag.” Supporting the main cast is a dozen plus lithe ensemble members, they kept in constant motion, appearing and disappearing through the side walls of shimmering tinsel. If it’s a dream, it’s a very sparkly dream.
This is a well-staged production although there were sound problems from intermittent microphones and some weird sound equalization in the first act. The full depth of the Valencia main stage was used, you could see all the way back to those zig-zaggy heating pipes that every backstage drama requires. The parallels between this show and any random CNN Murder Marathon are obvious, there’s a social and political commentary that writes itself but ignore that and groove to Le Jazz Hot. Don’t forget that aspirin from United Drug, I hear it goes well with Coca-Cola.
For more information on Valencia College Theatre, please visit http://valenciacollege.edu/artsandentertainment/Theater/schedule.cfm/