Who needs 50 Shades of Grey or Magic Mike when they have Dark Horse Company Theatre’s Chicago? This musical, currently the fourth longest-running show on Broadway, is full of songs that pack a dark-humored punch. Its also one steamy show with lots of sex appeal. Tight-fitting costumes designed by Do’Nel Ault and Alyssa Edlund, comprised primarily of black lace baby-doll nighties, bustiers and fish net stockings, enhanced the female cast members “assets” and raised the audience’s collective blood pressure, I am sure. The well-defined upper torso and arms of the four male ensemble cast members were barely shrouded (pleasingly so) beneath equally tight-fitting black mesh tops. Let me tell you, those ensemble cast members, guys and gals alike, were muy calliente! They sang well together. They danced well together. And they were just plain, smokin’ hot. Even when the male ensemble sported some less-than-manly costuming, they were still glorious.
As the show opens, the air takes on a hazy, smoke-filled night club feel and appearance. The “big band orchestra” directed by Anne Puzey can be seen in silhouette only on the upper deck of the main set; a simply designed affair, painted all in black with silver accents. Its two curving stairway’s lead from stage level to upper deck on either side and will allow for creative staging through the evening, and a central panel of sliding doors to allow for the convenient introduction and timely removal of various set pieces. The stage and set change, subtly so, from reality to reality: Now it’s a jail, now it’s a nightclub, now it’s a circus ring. Now it’s a jail, now it’s a nightclub, now it’s a circus ring. The effects used by director, Anne Stewart Mark and her production team to create this kaleidoscopic illusion, gave the “joint” just the right amount of glitz and atmosphere allowing for an easy suspension of disbelief.
It’s 1920-something, Jazz music and Speak-easy’s are everywhere, and bold and brash Velma Kelly (Erin Royall Carlson) is Chicago’s spotlight chanteuse. She’s also in jail awaiting trial, accused of murdering her sister and her husband after finding them in bed together. Through what is probably the show’s most widely known tune, All That Jazz, Velma with her nearly dominatrix-like appearance and strong, clear, belting vocals, gives us a peek into the fast and loose world of Jazz and Juice, and tells us the story of one Miss Roxie Hart. An aspiring nightclub performer and fellow inmate, seems Roxie (Ginger Bess), is just a simple girl who has always longed for fortune and fame. Bored with her timid and hardly-noticeable mechanic husband, Amos (Andrew Nadon) , she begins having an affair with Fred Casely (William Richardson, also the show’s choreographer), a regular at the club. Somewhere along the way, the affair that started with a proverbial “bang” ultimately ends with a literal one- and a dead body on the floor. The super-sexy Master of Ceremonies (Jesse Peery) with his toothsome grin announces Miss Hart’s first number. It’s hard not to find this adulterous songstress appealing as she sits atop a piano singing Funny Honey. With her creamy white skin, shining auburn hair, and red-painted lips, Bess is a stunning beauty beneath the spotlight and her voice is melodic and sweet, yet mature.
Cell Block Tango, performed by Velma & fellow jailbirds, was fabulously clever and titillating; the women sang and danced provocatively from behind a series of improvised “jail cell bars” and I loved hearing them sing in unison, “He had it comin’!” To get by in jail, and remain relevant to the outside world and the scandal hungry press, the inmates regularly make deals with and through the jail’s Matron, Mama Morton (Camille Van Wagoner), who is anything but motherly. It’s evident why Van Wagoner was cast in the role of Mama Morton; she is lovely and has a presence and charisma matched by few. She possesses a powerful, booming, beautiful voice, much needed to pull-off “When You’re Good to Mama”. With her voluptuous form accentuated in a tight black corset (her cups runneth over, yowza!), and draped in a feather boa, it seemed like she was holding back a little. Mama is the “Countess of the Clink”. She’s more booking agent than jailer, and her personality is B-I-G, big. The song is rife with double-entendres and sexual innuendo, but somehow, it seemed that Van Wagoner might have been uncomfortable with the bawdiness of it. Still, her voice was absolutely magnificent.
Kim Blackett as the slick defense attorney Billy Flynn, embodied the character very well, and aside from a few flubbed lines, his energy, comedic timing and delivery were outstanding. For a moment I thought that he might steal the show. After taking on Roxie as his client, he “rearranges” the details of the case, then proceeds to pass them onto the sympathetic columnist, Mary Sunshine (Eric Brotherson). I was very impressed at how wonderfully Brotherson sang in falsetto, with not a sour note in the entirety of his performance of A Little Bit of Good. Another stand out who should be mentioned, is Andrew Nadon. As the easily manipulated Amos, he was tender and touching while he mellifluously sang about being inconsequential and unnoticeable in the sad-sack song Mr. Cellophane. I found Nadon’s performance to be consistent, authentic and poignant, therefore drawing on my interest and my sympathies. I would love to see more from him.
I loved the inventive and tantalizing choreography by William Richardson. There were some of the usual opening night technical difficulties, for example, Velma’s body mic suffered from a persistent popping through much of the first act, but most of the sound and lighting ran very smoothly throughout the show. There was however, one awkward moment when a coordinated lighting and sound effect and a hanging noose didn’t go off quite right and I found myself feeling a bit cheated, sure that I and the rest of the audience missed out on something that was surely, meant to be much more. By and large, Dark Horse’s Chicago was entertaining and sensuous without being in the least bit sleazy. Quite an accomplishment if you ask me. If you want to know more on the story line, a little search on Google should tell you all you want to know and more. You are sure to see a little skin, but nothing more than what you’d see at the local swimming pool and there is some coarse language, but truly nothing worse than you’d hear on nighttime television. So, if you are looking for a rousing good time, you really should go see Chicago at Park City’s enigmatic and charming Egyptian Theatre while you can.
CHICAGO – The Musical, produced by award-winning Dark Horse Company Theatre, performs at The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from July 6 – 29. Reserved Tickets $30 Advance/ $35 Door; Front-of-House $40 Advance/ $45 Door; Cabaret Seats $55 Advance/ $60 Door. http://www.egyptiantheatrecompany.org/