Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Continuing the successful dynamic we saw in their recent Mamma Mia!, Flint Community Players currently is presenting a bang-up production of the now classic Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander musical, Chicago.
Still a popular show nearly 50 years after its debut, its appeal most probably lies with the jazz era’s 1920’s music. But there’s more. Based on actual events played out in the windy city back then, the action swirls around the murderous women awaiting trial and the notoriety they crave and receive from the local press.
Light on dialogue, this one serves up one marvelous musical number after another, which accentuates the success of that dynamic we mentioned. The orchestra is hidden away but is still very much live and connected to what’s happening on stage. Congrats go to Rafeal D. McDaniel and his seven musicians for handling this aspect with such panache and expertise.
So who are these murderous gals? Well, the whole show is set in the county jail so, of course the show opens there with “And All That Jazz” sung with gusto by Rolecia Looney as Velma backed up by an ever-present ensemble of gals and sometimes guys.
Suddenly there is action in the background when Amber Woollcott as Roxie Hart shoots her lover before our eyes. Don’t worry, she doesn’t use a real gun but the effect is the same. These two gals become the focus of this story. Both are extremely talented and fun to watch as they strive to garner the attention of the press to further their singing careers. Woollcott and Looney truly anchor the show.
Musical numbers prevail and highlights Friday night included “Cell Block Tango” where the gals explain in their defense that “He had it comin’!” and as Matron “Mama” Morton (Erika Odykirk) rebuts with her system, “When You’re Good To Mama”.
The gals need an attorney and Billy Flynn (Aaron Furman) is the apparent go-to guy. Furman was impressive with his “All I Care About” and later with “Razzle Dazzle”. His impact is strong and his dances are terrific.
Speaking of dance, we cannot overlook the fact that the fabulous Bob Fosse wrote this script and had to be behind the precision and intricate movement that this large group brings to number after number. The recreation of these dances here is impeccable.
Kim Heath Streby is comical as her newswoman Mary Sunshine sympathizes in “A Little Bit of Good” and also joins Furman, Woollcott and the ensemble for the amazingly well done “We Both Reached for the Gun”.
We also feel we must mention one favorite number in this show – “Mister Cellophane” sung by Andrew Eisengruber as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos. Eisengruber brings a poignant comedy to this terrific bit.
Director Shelby Coleman also collaborated on a set design that is perfect for this production. Three jail cells elevated on a broad two-step platform are all that is needed throughout. It’s a large cast but this set accommodates everyone perfectly.
Indeed, there isn’t a lot of distraction visually so the focus remains on the story and the folks involved. Much is accomplished with lighting. Ex. Poor Amos literally disappears at the end of his song!
Technically, this Chicago benefits from the know-how UM-Flint Theatre Department grads and students bring to sound, lighting, costume and design. Many UM-F folks are on the stage as well and this talent contributes mightily to the overall effect.
If there was a weird moment Friday, it was at the very end when oddly no one in the audience stood to applaud. Possibly we weren’t sure it was complete because the show did seem to just stop rather than end with a flourish. I for one was sorry that I didn’t jump up and applaud!
Chicago continues through January 26 with an extra show today at 2:20 pm at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. For more info contact FCP online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com or by phone at 810-235-6963.