Regional Reviews: Seattle
The Windy City comes to Redmond with Chicago
Also see David's review of I Am My Own Wife
This production, directed and co-choreographed by Chris Nardine, is fast paced and fun, despite a few missteps. It tells the tale of jazz baby killer Roxie Hart whose cold-blooded murder of love Fred Casely earns her five minutes of fame, thanks to her wiles and a helluva hot-shot lawyer named Billy Flynn. Since Chicago was a hot bed of lurid behavior in the twenties, Roxie and her fellow "merry murderess" Velma Kelly manage to keep their names in the paper by forming a vaudeville double act, post acquittals for their crimes.
It is rare that a production of Chicago is able to find an evenly matched pair of divas to play Roxie and Velma. In this instance, Erika Zabelle is a red-hot Roxie, singing her Kander & Ebb numbers like "Funny Honey" and "Me and My Baby" like a dream, and nailing Nardine and co-choreographer Kate Kingery's choreography with sizzle and zeal. As Velma, Carissa Meisner Smit delivers a flat, lack-luster characterization and, though a technically proficient singer and dancer, she never rouses with some of the show's best material, such as "All That Jazz" and "I Can't Do It Alone." Likewise, though a visually perfect match for the role of imposing lesbian prison matron Mama Morton, Tambre Massman is too genteel and restrained with her bawdy "When You're Good to Mama," and the lewd duet "Class," which she shares with Meissner Smit, barely registers. And, while Lisa Wright-Thiroux shows off an impressive soprano as sob-sister reporter Mary Sunshine, casting a real woman in this role, traditionally played by a skilled female impersonator, robs it of any real useful commentary to the plot.
Two outstanding actors, however, bolster the production a great deal. Julian Schrenzel has acting chops and a rich baritone to bring to the Clarence Darrow inspired Billy Flynn, especially when he socks across the character's signature number, "All I Care About." As Roxie's sad-sack loser husband Amos, Buddy Mahoney adds another fine character to the trunk-load he has delighted local audiences with, and his "Mister Cellophane" is heart-tugging and expertly sung. Nardine and Kingery have utilized a small, talented ensemble chorus well in their Fosse-inspired staging, and the ensemble ladies especially shine in their "Cell-Block Tango."
Mark Chenovick's set design makes maximum use of the minimal space afforded at SSR, lighting by Rob Falk is garish and seductive as required, and John Allbritton's costumes are exquisite and on target. Finally, kudos to Musical Director Paul Linnes and an eight-piece band that really do the Kander & Ebb score proud.
Chicago runs through February 26 at Redmond Town Center in Redmond, WA. Tickets can be purchased online at www.secondstoryrep.org or by phone at 425-881-6777 between 1 and 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.- David Edward Hughes