BWW Review: CHICAGO Sizzles at Theatre by the Sea

BWW Review: CHICAGO Sizzles at Theatre by the Sea

The Merry Murderesses of Cook County have set up in South County Rhode Island to close out Theatre By the Sea's 85th season with a bang. This production is stacked with talent, as well as the outstanding songs and dance numbers one can rely on. Even as the days are (finally) getting a bit cooler, CHICAGO is keeping things hot right into September.

Chicago is one of those musicals that needs a good amount of seediness and slinking to work well, and this production sets that tone right away with Michelle Alves as Velma Kelly. Alves commands the stage in "All That Jazz", establishing herself as the grand dame of cabaret with the vocal and dance skills to slay all day. Alves' performance is so practiced and precise that during "I Can't Do it Alone", one strongly gets the impression that she doesn't believe what she's saying for a second, but she's still selling with all her might. It's a subtle, but interesting acting choice that really opens up the interpretation of her character in a way that's surprising. Add to that her outstanding singing voice, and limitless flexibility and you almost worry that she's going to upstage her co-stars at every turn.

Thankfully, Jessica Wockenfuss can hold her own as Roxie Hart. Wockenfuss looks the part of a pretty, slightly dippy blonde and even after you watch her murder a man, you still fall for her a bit. Her opening number "Funny Honey", was oddly rushed leaving her and Amos, played by Kevin Loreque, singing over each other in a way that washed the humor right out of the scene. However, during her performances of "Roxie" it's safe to assume the entire audience were on her side and eager for acquittal. Wockenfuss and Alves have an excellent dynamic that makes their scenes even more interesting to watch as you can almost see them calculating their next move against each other. Wockenfuss was an intern at Theatre by the Sea ten years ago, and she has clearly been refining her craft since then. Hopefully she will return for future productions because her talents are worth seeking out.

As for the men in the show, Matthew J. Taylor as Billy Flynn is smarmy and charming and has an outstanding baritone that felt like it was vibrating the rafters of the old barn theatre. Kevin Loreque perfectly captured the heartbreak of Amos, but also didn't forget to make himself pathetic enough that he's out of your mind the second he leaves the stage. It takes real skill to make a character that's so pitiable also into someone that the audience doesn't really root for. Similarly, even though Taylor oozes confidence as Billy Flynn, he still manages to step back and let Roxie take the spotlight as needed. This is the women's show, after all.

Tarra Conner jones turns in a noteworthy performance as Mama Morton, the prison matron. Mama always seems like the most fun role to play, and it's clear that Conner jones is having a fantastic time with her character and with the songs she gets to sing. Her rendition of "When You're Good to Mama" is almost overwhelming to listen to, it's that good. She pulls out all the stops and goes for broke and it's truly something to hear.

Chicago is one of those musicals that stays with you, and you'll be humming the songs for weeks afterward. The movie might be a solid production, but nothing compares to seeing it live, and the intimate staging at Theatre by the Sea really plays into the cabaret aspect of the show. The cast is chock full of talent and this is a show not to be missed.

Chicago will be presented from August 15 - September 9, Performances are scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, Thursdays at 2:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 and Sundays at 5:00 pm, with special performance times on Sunday, August 19 at 2:00 & 7:00 pm. The theatre is located at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm, Sundays from 12 noon - 5:00 pm and performance days until curtain, online 24-hours-a-day at www.theatrebythesea.com and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (866) 811-4111 or (401) 782-TKTS (8587).

Photo: Jessica Wockenfuss (Roxie Hart) and the cast of CHICAGO. Photos by Steven Richard Photography.

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From This Author Andria Tieman

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