Troupe keeps 'Chicago' faithful to Fosse

Theater Review

Theater Review

June 02, 2011|By Anthony Sclafani

You can't beat Bob Fosse.

The dance moves created by the late, legendary Broadway choreographer are so definitive that their interpretations by local choreographer Lori Struss are reason enough to see "Chicago," now being revived by Columbia's Silhouette Stages.

The production, which runs at Slayton House until the end of the weekend, has more to offer than spiffy dance moves, however.

There's also some fine acting, powerful singing and a story that's, well, pretty strange, but nonetheless interesting and very provocative.

"Chicago" brings theater-goers into a sort of Bizarro World, where cold-blooded murderers are media "stars," lawyers are out for anything but real justice, and reporters are all a bunch of lapdogs, breathlessly reporting whatever lies they're told.

It's a bit hard to swallow the fact that this "fantasy" scenario might have been (and might still be) closer to reality than many of us would care to admit.

"Chicago" tells the story of a 1920s-era chorus girl, Roxie Hart, who murders her husband and uses the ensuing publicity to launch a showbiz career. The plot has its basis in fact: Way back in 1924 a Chicago Tribune celebrity journalist actually wrote a stage play and film based on a similar story she covered.

"Chicago" begins in earnest when the play's presiding "star" murderess, Velma (Katie Sheldon), leads the ensemble trough a snappy rendition of "All That Jazz," one of the more tuneful numbers from the musical's celebrated composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Soon after, we're thrust into "Cell Block Tango," a song set in a woman's prison, in which Velma and her fellow inmates confess their various adventures in murder. Scenes like this are enlivened by a troupe of women known as the Cell Block Dancers, composed of Ashleigh Townsend, Clare Kneebone, Angela Stein and Linda Nguyen Ha.

We then meet "Matron Mama" Morton (Nicolle Waller), the warden of the women's prison who spends her time promoting her convicts as celebrities when she isn't taking bribes from them.

She has a local promoter, of sorts, in Billy Flynn, a flamboyantly unethical lawyer, portrayed in a hilarious over-the-top performance by troupe founded Mo Dutterer. Decked out in a loud white suit with a gaggle of scantily-clad chorus girls surrounding him, Dutterer practically stops the show with his brash rendition of the jazzy number "All I Care About."

Before long we meet the star murderess, Roxie herself, who is given a wickedly cynical veneer by Adeline Sutter. Roxie learns how to play on the heartstrings of the local "sob sister" reporter Mary Sunshine (comically voiced by KJ Logan) and soon is getting on the bad side of Velma.

Roxie's crime? She has learned to play the media more cleverly than Velma ever did, and therefore has become a bigger sensation.

Directors Conni Ross and Debbie Mobley smartly have the actors strike a balance between the ridiculous and the believable, an important element in any work that gets into this level of cynicism.

An especially impressive element is the lighting design by Chris Mobley, which captures the brooding, late-night atmosphere that the musical fantasy demands.

"Chicago" might not be everyone's kind of town, but in the hands of the gang at Silhouette Stages, it's definitely a place worth visiting.

Silhouette Stages continues its run of "Chicago" Fridays-Saturdays, June 3-4 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 5 at 3 and 7 p.m., in the Slayton House Theater in the Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Tickets are $18 general, $15 for senior citizens and students. Call 410-637-5289 or go to http://www.silhouettestages.com.

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