CHICAGO Comes to Winnipesaukee Playhouse
CHICAGO, the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical, written with the guiding hand of Bob Fosse, has the ability like no other to follow an inhale of razzle-dazzle with a deeply disturbing exhale of political distrust. This musical, now on stage at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, is proof enough. At a recent performance, laughs and applause had a way of dissolving into thoughtful reflection on America's present state, as the show's depictions of violence and 'fake news' revealed themselves, smuggled in under the cover of Jazz Age decadence.
Clayton Phillips is the director of this production and the only word to describe his work is "brilliant." From his most creative staging to the bawdiness of the delightfully comic touches, Phillips infuses the play with satire and wit. He did not miss a chance to make his cast shine despite the dark tones of the material.
Haley Jones has all the wry, edgy, anxious humor that the character of Roxie Hart demands. Jones captivates the audience with her hilarious and spunky version of the character that harkens back to a young Gwen Verdon (who originated the role on Broadway.) Jones can sing and dance, but she's also a powerful actor. She is brassy, beautiful and a heck of a dancer! She brings a perfectly timed delivery to the jokes and a perfectly played obsession to the publicity starved character. Jones takes this show to new heights.
Ashley Whalley high kicks her way through the show as the jailhouse diva, Velma Kelly. She is perfect as Velma bringing strength, character, and confidence to the part. She is a pleasure to watch perform on stage. Her entrance demands applause, and her final duet with Jones is a showstopper. As a matter of fact, I left the theater imagining all the shows that these two actors, Whalley and Jones, could star in together.
Every actor including the chorus in this production more than holds their own and makes a significant contribution to the show's success. They all deserve credit for a job well done. However, besides the actors mentioned already, there are others deserving of special recognition. Caleb Albert, an extremely talented, charismatic actor, is brilliant as Billy Flynn. L. Brady, as Mary Sunshine, delivers a complicated role with ease, making a mysterious character even more mysterious. John-Micahel Breen is a rising star in the theater. He captures the sadness of Amos Hart beautifully, but he needs to be careful that his portrayal does not become two dimensional.
The set of this production of CHICAGO at is a stunning success. The set, designed by Melissa Shakun, is magnificent and much effort was put into making the audience feel as if they were patrons in the prison cell and courtroom of an Al Capone-Era Chicago. The short distance between the actors and the audience creates an atmosphere of intimacy as does the inspired placement of the musicians on stage, behind the bars. By the way, the orchestra, led by conductor Judy Hayward, perfectly captures the lazy drawl of jazz juxtaposed with the upbeat rhythms of the flappers. The biggest disappointment of the night were the costumes. Not only did these costumes add nothing to the overall atmosphere, but they also lacked any distinctive style or period. It almost seemed like the cast had to act 'around' the costumes.
I highly recommend a trip to the Winnipesaukee Playhouseto catch this stellar production of Chicago. I just hope you can still get a ticket, because I heard it was selling out fast. Hopefully, they will extend this run so everyone can get a taste of how this classic musical should be done. Arriving early will help you secure a place to park and to find your way to the theater.
CHICAGO, the musical, playing through August 10 at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse. For tickets call the box office at (603) 279-0333