BWW Reviews: Welk Resorts' CHICAGO Sizzles On Through June 2
Kander and Ebb's brilliant musical satire on corruption in the administrative justice system of 1920s Chicago, aptly named Chicago based on an earlier play of the same name, first opened on Broadway in 1975 with the legendary Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon and Jerry Orbach. I think I must have second-acted it a dozen times. Just to see Rivera make her first entrance on a platform electronically elevated from underneath the stage was a thrill in itself... and all that jazzy Kander and Ebb music... and to boot, Bob Fosse's sizzling choreography! It's a show-lover's wet dream! It deserved to win Tonys but was competing that year with A Chorus Line. Enough said! It took twenty years to receive the recognition it deserves, when in the 1990s a more streamlined version emerged, directed by Ann Reinking. This version has had a million revivals, but, when well executed, each is just as well worth seeing as the original. Such is the case with the production at Welk Resort Theatre, Escondido, which has been playing since March 22 and runs until June 2. With stunning direction from Ray Limon and a truly great cast, Chicago lives on as one of America's greatest musical entertainments!
Oh, did I forget to mention Rob Marshall's movie in 2002 which took home 6 Academy Awards? It's a lot to compete with, and many folks remember the film first, but this intimate well honed stage adaptation at Welk lives up to the quality expected and delivers the goods, putting you smack dab in the middle of the action as only stage can do. I will not spend but a sentence reworking the plot as most know it's about murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart who are vying for the most popular celebrity-oriented trial helmed by lawyer Billy Flynn, who, like Florenz Ziegfeld, knows how to put on a show. He does make a bundle and gets his clients off, even though justice goes out with the garbage. This is a vaudeville! Roxie and Velma were not the only ones who got fame. Look at Bonnie and Clyde and some fifty years later, O. J. Simpson. The song "Nowadays" at the musical's finale says...In fifty years or so, it's gonna' change you know, but now it's heaven, nowadays...as Kander & Ebb knew full well that justice would never change and will remain corrupt ad infinitum. But, I'm already past my sentence limit to talk about the plot and its meaning...so on with the production values of Welk's show...
The cast led by Natalie Nucci as Velma and Adrienne Storrs as Roxie... and Casey Marshall as Flynn are simply sensational. From her first entrance with "All That Jazz", Nucci exudes star quality. What a grande triple threat performer! Storrs is her equal bringing a whiny, little-girl charm to Roxie that works nicely. Marshall is attractive, suave, debonair and affable as Flynn and plays the showman to the hilt in fine voice. Valerie Geason is strong and wonderfully domineering as Matron Mama Morton, Shaun Thomas makes a thoroughly likable and gullible Amos Hart - his "Mr. Cellophane" shines without being overdone, and RC Sands as Mary Sunshine is over-the-top delightfully and heart-rendering funny. Sands is such an expressive actor with a great and rare talent of possessing a soprano vocal range. What an art!
Praise also to Manuel Rodriguez as Fred Casely and Danny Hansen, Andrew J. Koslow, and Hanz Enyeart of the male ensemble and to female ensemble dancers: Brenna Fleeman-Delay, Jebbel Arce, Tracey Freeman, Emily Dauwalder, and Sarah Errington. All fantastic dancers beautifully executing Limon's slick Fosse-esque moves! Kudos as well to Paul Vanderjagt's functional set with orchestra center stage, Janet Pitcher's sexy costumes, Patrick Hoyny's sound design and Jennifer Edwards' dark lighting.
Kander and Ebb loved the dark periods in history as with their Cabaret set in Berlin in the unsettling 30s. They also loved controversy, stemming from corruption and prejudice, also clearly on display in their last great endeavor The Scottsboro Boys, set to begin a run at the Ahmanson at the end of May. Dark story content but always high on entertainment too! Well, it's all present in fine form in their dazzling Chicago, and this production at Welk Theatre is first-rate, worth the ride to Escondido!