BWW Reviews: Shadowbox Live Shows Plenty of 'Razzle Dazzle' in CHICAGO
It's been a Broadway favorite since it's 1975 opening, and the Academy Award winning 2012 movie version did little to detract from its fame, but if you weren't fascinated with Chicago's musical tale of sex, lies, and corruption before now, Shadowbox Live's stellar cast will definitely give you enough of the ol' "Razzle Dazzle" to make you a fan.
The roaring 20's are brought to life with a bang, well several actually, as Master of Ceremonies, BranDon Anderson introduces the audience to vaudevillian Velma Kelley (Stacie Boord), made famous more for the murder of her husband and sister, having caught them in an affair, than her talent as a performer. The always fabulous Boord is a force to be reckoned with as Velma Kelly, and again brings all of the sultry, sassy, energy Shadowbox Live fans are well acquainted with from her past performances, coupled with one of the best voices on any local stage in a captivating opening number of "All That Jazz". The simple, yet functional set, and gorgeous 20's costumed back-up dancers (Edelyn Parker, Nikki Fagin, Kara Wilkinson, and Renee Horton) are just enough eye candy to draw you in to the tale of chorus girl murderess Roxie Hart (Amy Lay).
Hart has murdered nightclub regular Fred Casely (Tom Cardinal), and convinces her love struck and gullible husband Amos (Robbie Nance) to take the blame, until he wises up and realizes that Hart and Casely were engaged in an affair. The talented Amy Lay as Hart delivers a naïve, ditzy, but conniving performance as she sings the praises of her husband's dim wit in "Funny Honey", but once he learns the truth, it's off to the Cook County Jail for Hart, where she meets Velma Kelly and a gang of murderesses (Nikki Fagin, Renee Horton, Edelyn Parker, Anita McFarren, and Kara Wilkinson) in "The Cell Block Tango". One of the best staged numbers of the night, each of the women describes their tails of murder and woe and pleads their innocence. The jailhouse girls are some of Shadowbox's best and brightest starlets, as must be the case to take the stage with Boord and Lay fronting, are all superb in their own rights, as well, and this number was captivating. Heading up the cell block is the corrupt Matron Mama Morton (Mary Randle) who makes a living offering mutual aid to her charges as described in "When You're Good to Mama". Randle is superb vocally in this steamy little number and sets the necessary undertone of evil and seduction while flanked by four pantless cop dancers (Jim Andres, Eli Rousculp, Austin Shannon, and J. Robert Raines). This is Morton at her finest, as Randle's delivery throughout the rest of the show appears almost tender at times, and is a little more Miss Hannigan than Cruella DeVille, though Randle is phenomenally good vocally in every performance. We learn that Morton has helped Velma Kelly stage a return to the vaudeville spotlight through the use of spin-pro shyster Billy Flynn (JT Walker III) as her attorney. Velma is immediately unhappy to find that Roxie has stolen her media stage, and even more dismayed to find she has stolen her lawyer, though Flynn assures the girls, "All I Care About is Love". JT Walker III is arguably one of Shadowbox's best male dancer/singers, and he positively shines as the slippery, controlling, paparazzi pleaser.
Flynn takes Roxie's case after she convinces Amos to pay him to defend her, and Flynn sets to work re-arranging the facts of the case to give sympathetic tabloid author Mary Sunshine (Stephanie Shull) all she needs to have the public feeling so sorry for Hart that an acquittal is guaranteed with "A Little Bit of Good". Schull is wonderful in her over-the-top sweetness and naïveté, ever searching for the silver lining in the stories of the jailhouse row murderesses. In another standout performance of the evening, Flynn uses Hart as a ventriloquist dummy during her press conference with "We Both Reached For The Gun" to create a new version of the truth that the press eats up. This number is craftily choreographed in puppeteer-like precision with Flynn clearly pulling the strings of not only Hart and the press, but the audience as well, as you can not help but follow the ensemble's every move. Delighted with the success of her delusion, Roxie dreams of realizing her vaudeville stardom in "Roxie", taking center stage in all her glory with Lay delivering a completely stunning performance.