Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Vaudeville and Prohibition form the core of Savie Productions and Clio Cast & Crew’s terrific rendition of the acclaimed 1920s musical Chicago that opened Thursday evening at Theatre 57 in Clio. If you were driving by, maybe you heard it! The music was loud, non-stop, and sported a variety of rhythms, beats, and spirited dance numbers.
This Bob Fosse piece was written with Fred Ebb and based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. (Interesting side note: Watkins was a crime reporter during the 1920s in Chicago and based her play on two actual murderesses incarcerated in Cook County.) Ebb and John Kander wrote the music for this revue-style show with many numbers crafted in the form of famous vaudeville stars.
The time is the 1920s when jazz was “hot”, lawyers were crooked, and violence sold newspapers. First on the scene, Velma Kelly is an accused murderess and jail inmate, played with torchy sophistication by Ericka Lyons. Her opening “All That Jazz” definitely sets the tone for the evening. She is soon joined by the entire ensemble (nearly 30!) dancing and singing in perfect synchronization.
This is a good time to offer kudos to director Evie Zilinski for managing to stage this play and its large number of folks with the smooth precision displayed throughout. Entrances and exits in this minimal offstage venue could have been tricky but flowed smoothly and quickly.
Next, we are privy to a murder committed by Roxie Hart. Played with fire and naiveté by Michelle Hayes, she angrily guns down her lover for fooling around, then pins her hopes on her drab little husband Amos (Tim Ruwart) singing the torchy “Funny Honey”.
The gals in the jail seem never really worried about their hanging offenses since they have Billy Flynn, a sleazy lawyer played by Mike Odette, to argue for them and win their freedom for a price. Odette’s “All I Care About Is Love” is something to see with the Ziegfeld-style fan dancers aiding and abetting.
Also getting ahead from the corruption in the legal system is jail matron Mama Morton. Musical director Sue Mackenzie belts the “Cell Block Tango” ala Sophie Tucker, and brings style and swagger to the role as she pockets bribes right and left.
The press conference scene is excellent as Billy sits Roxie on his lap like a ventriloquist dummy for “We Both Reached for the Gun”. It’s a showstopper! And also watch for the reporter Mary Sunshine (J. Bertrand) who sings the operatic “A Little Bit of Good”. There’s definitely more here than meets the eye.
One other favorite we must mention is Ruwart’s white-gloved “Mr. Cellophane” sung with comically melancholy resignation.
Choreography is pristine, as we’ve come to expect in Savie shows. There’s just something wonderful about seeing so many dancers move in such awesome precision. Congratulations to Sandra Brewer and Kathleen Slezak.
Onstage throughout, the music team of pianist Gary King, percussionist Delaina Oberman and electric bass player Owen Ananich perform impressively. They are never too loud, a trick as none of the singers in this show use microphones.
Rick Doll’s set for Chicago is sparse but workable and highly colorful. The musicians are center stage at the back framed perfectly by the lighted paned window. There is a single broad step unit across the back allowing for maximum egress in and out and an intriguing spiral staircase down left that is also used creatively.
If we had any concern, it might’ve been the slightly low level of energy detected. We were very impressed overall, but now and then wanted to find the tempo/volume knob and turn it up a bit. Still, this troupe puts out an incredible performance with non-stop music, dance and creativity.
Chicago continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, July 18,19,24,25, and 26 at 7:30 pm and July 20 & 27 at 2:00 pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-687-2588