BWW Reviews: 'Roxie Rocks CHICAGO'- As Does the Rest of Summer Stock Austin
As a self-proclaimed theatre nerd, I have a bit of an embarrassing confession: I have never seen Chicago on stage. I've belted the soundtrack, seen the movie countless times, and even walked past the Ambassador Theater on Broadway (that counts-right?). But I had not yet seen this musical favorite live, until Wednesday night at the opening of Summer Stock Austin's Chicago.
And yes, was it all that and a side of jazz.
Summer Stock Austin brings local college and high school students to the stage, "solely on the basis of their demonstrated talent, promise, and character." And founders Ginger Morris and Michael McKelvey clearly know what they're doing. A barren set and some less-than-par looking wigs are the only hints that these young actors and actresses are still amateurs.
Set in 1920s Chicago, the aptly-titled musical follows two convicted felons; cynical, cabaret veteran Velma Kelly, and the dramatic, wannabe-celebrity Roxie Hart, both attempting to prove their "innocence" and stay in the public eye. Premiering on Broadway back in 1976 to a less than stellar run, Chicago returned to the stage in 1996 and set the record for the longest running revival on the Great White Way. The musical features music by John Cander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Broadway legend Bob Fosse.
When the only critique you can muster is that Madeline Metzger's Hart was a bit too dramatic (a defying trait of her character throughout this "play within a play"), you know your leading ladies are doing something right. Metzger's shining moment came mid first-act, in her and Vincent Hooper (but more on him later)'s rendition of "We Both Reached for the Gun," where the oomph I was holding out for finally came to light, and was successfully carried throughout the showstopping number "Roxie," until the end of the show. Madison Piner brought such a convincing maturity and skepticism to the well-known character of Kelly that, mixed with her raw talent and high energy, my only complaint is that she wasn't on stage longer. While "I Cannot Do it Alone," and "Velma Takes the Stage" were her shining moments, not one number in which she performed was less than exhilarating.
In a production filled with sequins and spotlights, Vincent Hooper, portraying the skillful and conniving lawyer Billy Flynn, without a doubt, shined brightest on the Rollins stage. Hooper, who will begin his freshman year of college in the fall, already has the spunk, dynamism, and talent that many actors still strive for onstage. His character, constantly straddling the line between hero and villain, kept the energy high and the entertainment higher with the perfect combination of comedy, charisma, and a refreshing hint of approachability.
B. Rogers and Jessica O'Brien rounded out this impressive ensemble as Mary Sunshine and Matron Mama Morton, respectively. Rogers supplied the notable comic relief (and wowing operetta) while O'Brien brought the extraordinary powerhouse voice, both giving memorable performances.
For playing a character that sees himself as invisible, Kyle Coughlin's Amos Hart was anything but. His honest portrayal of a loyal husband caught in stitch after stich of bad luck invited a real connection to the audience, and well-earned applause, appreciation, and "awws" throughout the evening. Coughlin took the difficult task of juxtaposing the show's vim and vigor with a bland and self-deprecating Amos, and turned him into one of the more memorable roles of night.
As a balanced journalist (or so I attempt to be...), I believe I've failed in providing a more well-rounded review. So for those looking for some criticism, here you go: these kids work too hard. Though you wouldn't know it without a peek through the program, the majority of the cast (principals included) are simultaneously appearing in two additional Summer Stock Austin shows this month, making this company one of my top picks for summer theater (stop by the Long Center if only so that in five years, when they're blowing up Broadway, you can say you knew them when).
Director Michael McKelvey successfully takes a bare, black box style theater, young, relatively inexperienced performers, and an assumedly miniscule budget and thankfully turns in into a little gem of the Great White Way right in our own Austin backyard.
And you know what? It's almost as good as having a seat in that Ambassador Theater.