BWW Review: Reagle's CHICAGO is Splendiforous!

Chicago

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb; Based on the Play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Bob Fosse; Orchestrations by Ralph Burns; Dance Music Arrangements by Peter Howard; Producing Artistic Director, Robert J. Eagle; Scenic Design, Jiyoung Han; Costumes by Kansas City Costumes; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Sound Design, Nick Mesenbourg; Production Stage Manager, David Apichell; Conductor, Jeremy Fenn-Smith; Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Directed and Choreographed by Gerry McIntyre in the style of Bob Fosse

CAST (in order of appearance): Sara Gettelfinger, Angie Schworer, Jamal Rashann Callender, Rod Roberts, Rick Sherburne, Katie Clark, Rachel Bertone, Jaclyn Miller, Linda Neel, Lizzie Porcari, Maryann Zschau, Rick Pessagno, P. Mill, Maria LaRossa, Major Nesby, Alex Nordin, Danny Meglio, Brandon Alberto

Performances through June 23 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.com

"Brevity is the soul of wit;" so sayeth William Shakespeare, and if I were to adhere to the wisdom of his assertion, what follows would comprise my review of Chicago at Reagle Music Theatre: Wow! But I won't stop there because it merits more than a few column inches to sing the praises of Director/Choreographer Gerry McIntyre's staging of the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Set in the Roaring Twenties, this winner of six Tony Awards features two celebrity murderesses who learned the power of the press long before O.J. Simpson led police on a wild Bronco chase. Broadway babies Sara Gettelfinger and Angie Schworer are joined by Rick Pessagno, another veteran of the Great White Way, as the women who rock the jailhouse and their publicity hungry defense lawyer.

Gettelfinger, Schworer, and Pessagno are at the forefront of a company of triple threats whose bodies move as one in the ensemble numbers choreographed "in the style of Bob Fosse." Fosse, of course, was the brilliant director and choreographer of the original production, as well as the co-book writer with lyricist Fred Ebb, whose partner John Kander composed the distinctive music. A few of the songs may be familiar ("All That Jazz," "Mister Cellophane," "Razzle Dazzle"), but they're all winners and advance the story, accomplishing what good musical theater songs should. Deservedly sharing the spotlight, Jeremy Fenn-Smith conducts the onstage orchestra featuring a baker's dozen of crack musicians, including Music Director Dan Rodriguez on piano and accordion.

Double-murderer Velma Kelly (Gettelfinger) is the top dog in Matron "Mama" Morton's (Maryann Zschau) pen until Roxie Hart (Schworer) steals the headlines from her when she shoots her lover and tries to get her schlemiel husband Amos (Rick Sherburne) to take the blame. Savvy, cynical Billy Flynn believes that the best defense is a good offense and cooks up a variety of publicity schemes to gain the attention and sympathy of the Cook County media and potential jury pool to maintain his courtroom winning streak. As Roxie's mouthpiece ("We Both Reached for the Gun"), Flynn wins over tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine (P. Mill), boosting Roxie's profile and swelling her ego. However, like Velma before her, she soon learns that fame is fleeting when the next sensational murder knocks her off the front page.

In an act of desperation, Velma tries to team up with Roxie, but receives a raspberry for her efforts. They both conclude that they can only count on themselves and, just before intermission, Roxie makes an unexpected announcement to renew the shine on her fading star. Act two highlights the preparations for the trial and the circus atmosphere surrounding the big event. In fact, when Billy tries to calm Roxie's nerves by explaining that it's all hocus pocus ("Razzle Dazzle"), he is joined onstage by a coterie of circus performers. Art imitates life in a blatant and humorous slap at the justice system and the concept of the "celebrity criminal." If the story had a contemporary setting, Roxie and Velma would end up with a reality show and a book deal, but they find a period-appropriate outlet to showcase their talents and notoriety.

Each of the lead actresses gets a passel of musical numbers to strut her stuff and, boy, do they! Gettelfinger, who sashayed through town in 2012 as Morticia in the national tour of The Addams Family, cuts loose with a broad portrayal of the tough broad and uses her vocal belt to great effect, especially in the opener, "All That Jazz." With straight faces and beautiful harmony, she and Zschau milk all the laughs from "Class," and her polished song-and-dance routines with Schworer make it look like they've had an act together for a long time.

In an interview with BroadwayWorld, Schworer referenced her extensive dance training and she stands out in McIntyre's choreography. Whether seductively writhing on the floor, bouncing on the knee of Billy Flynn, or tapping and twirling between Roxie's "Boys" (two outstanding bookends, Jamal Rashann Callender and Major Nesby), Schworer appears to be one of those people who danced before she walked. She moves with natural ease and won't let you take your eyes off Roxie. Little wonder that she wraps Amos around her finger, and Sherburne has the adoring puppy dog down pat.

Pessagno has a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial and glides across the stage with the smooth confidence necessary to give Flynn his star power. He sells both of his big numbers and his acting is commanding. Ms. Sunshine falls under his spell, even as she wins over the audience with some pretty amazing vocal gymnastics and believable physicality. While Mill is a veteran of previous REagle Productions, this role has some surprises waiting to be revealed. Rod Roberts steps out of the ensemble to cover a variety of character parts, displaying great comic range as several jurors, and his dance skills shine when he returns to the line.

Katie Clark, Rachel Bertone, Jaclyn Miller, Linda Neel, and Lizzie Porcari join Gettelfinger for a rousing "Cell Block Tango," creatively staged with spindle back chairs. In addition to making Billy, Velma, and Roxie look good, the rest of the ensemble (Maria LaRossa, Alex Nordin, Danny Meglio, and Brandon Alberto) are fine singers and dancers, and also play an assortment of reporters and court personnel. With the musicians flanking a center staircase and characters making grand entrances and exits, Jiyoung Han's scenic design suggests a vaudeville setting, and Lighting Designer David Wilson adds to the effect by outlining the proscenium with small white bulbs. The cast members are amplified and Sound Designer Nick Mesenbourg finds the balance between vocals and orchestra, although there were a couple of instances when the sound quality was a little muddied.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is celebrating its 45th anniversary season and honoring its mission "to recreate the original Broadway experience..." with this high-rolling production of Chicago. With Fosse-style high kicks, hip thrusts, and splayed hands, McIntyre and company recreate the menace of murderer's row, the madness of celebrity worship, and the va-va-voom of vaudeville. This windy city is delightfully splendiferous!

Photo credit: Herb Philpott (Angie Schworer, Rick Pessagno, and Company)




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From This Author Nancy Grossman