In 'Chicago,' some performers go to town

July 30, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Though Cockpit in Court's production of "Chicago" doesn't quite have "All That Jazz" -- to borrow the title of the show's opening song -- it has enough to make an enjoyable evening.

"All That Jazz," of course, was also the title that "Chicago's" original director, choreographer and co-author, Bob Fosse, chose for his autobiographical movie. And, though Fosse's slick style is difficult for a community theater to duplicate, Edward M. Shipley's direction and Edward J. Peters' choreography imbue Cockpit's production with sufficient seaminess and naughtiness

to convey the essential idea that "in this town, murder is a form of entertainment," as one character puts it.

The show, which has an imaginative and often humorous score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is based on a 1926 play about a married chorus girl named Roxie Hart who murders her lover, and then, with the help of a sleazy lawyer, uses the publicity to boost her career. As musicals go, this isn't exactly "The Sound of Music," but then, Kander and Ebb's credits include "Cabaret" and this year's Tony Award winner, "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Sugar and spice is not their specialty.

That may be one reason "Chicago" isn't produced more often, despite its relatively small scale. That scale works especially well at Cockpit, where the 10-member chorus does multiple duty as prisoners, reporters and jurors, merely by adding a piece of clothing to their basic costume of black underwear.

The small scale is also reflected in designer Clare P. Rowe's stationary two-level set, whose economy eliminates the lags that frequently accompany set changes at this theater. Instead, palettes bearing furniture and props glide swiftly through swinging panels flanking a central doorway.

At the same time, the placement of the band on the set's upper level allows the conductor -- who also happens to be director Shipley -- to be part of the action. Although I didn't see the original, I suspect this arrangement owes a large debt to Fosse, who structured the musical as a vaudeville show with an emcee introducing each number.

At Cockpit, some of these numbers -- as well as some of the performers -- are decidedly stronger than others. Rick Hammontree is a standout as Roxie's lawyer; when he sings "All I Care About (is love)," he oozes hypocrisy. Though he performs a mini-strip tease while he sings, there's no question that he's the type of lawyer who would steal the shirt off your back before he'd ever give you his.

Regrettably, the balance of the production is altered by the fact that Laurie Sentman Starkey, who plays Velma Kelly, Roxie's fellow inmate and rival, has more pizazz than Sue Centurelli does the lead role of Roxie. The show's big climax should be the song, "Nowadays," performed when the pair goes into vaudeville together, after they're acquited. Instead, this is overshadowed by Starkey's spirited reprise of "All That Jazz" in the finale.

However, you can almost overlook this shortcoming in exchange for the joy of seeing Dave Guy, as Roxie's long-suffering husband, deliver his comically pathetic rendition of "Mister Cellophane"; or better yet, Starkey and the prison matron, played by Kris Goss, sweetly singing the profanity-strewn lament, "(Whatever happened to) Class."

Both of these numbers, incidentally, were included in the marvelous Kander and Ebb revue, "The World Goes 'Round," which played the Mechanic in January. Cockpit provides a rare opportunity to see them in context; that in itself, gives the production "class."

'Chicago'

Where: Cockpit in Court, Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

When: Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Tickets: $12.50.

Call: (410) 780-6369.

** 1/2

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