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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Fast and Funny Chicago Jazzes Its Way Into
Village Theatre

Also see David's review of 33 Variations

Chicago
Desirée Davar and Taryn Darr
It took Issaquah's venerable Village Theatre long enough to get around to it, but the company does itself proud with a fine production of Chicago, Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb's jazz-era musical classic. Even if you have seen the Oscar winning film or countless productions of the stage show, particularly in Ann Reinking's Fosse-inspired staging used for the never-ending Broadway revival and national tours, you are in for a treat seeing what canny director Steve Tomkins and choreographer Kristin Holland have up their talented sleeves at Village. If anything, the show, which benefits from resplendent sets and masterful lighting by Tom Sturge and glitzy Technicolor hued costumes by Karen Ann Ledger, recalls the look and feel of the original 1975 Fosse-directed Broadway version (which got overshadowed at the Tonys and the box office by the original production of A Chorus Line).

Ebb and Fosse's script tells the tale of two-bit temptress Roxie Hart who kills her lover in cold blood in 1920s Chicago, an era which saw the rise of the kind of tawdry tabloid media coverage that is common-place today. She is defended by the high-powered Clarence Darrow-like Billy Flynn, whose fellow client Velma Kelly is Roxie's determined rival for tabloid attention; mooned over by her sad-sack grease monkey hubby Amos; supported (for a fee) by prison matron Mama Morton; and supported in the press by sob-sister reporter Mary Sunshine. The Kander & Ebb score, their most popular next to their landmark Cabaret, is a witty pastiche of everything from DeSylva, Brown and Henderson to Kurt Weill, and offers show stopping numbers to all its principal actors. Village's cast is happily top-heavy with kick-ass known commodities and a few talented new faces tossed in for good measure.

You couldn't ask for a better Roxie Hart than talented Taryn Darr, as triple threat a singer/dancer/actress as you are likely to find. Darr's relentlessly self-centered Roxie is diamond hard and, with her killer vocals and masterful moves, she captivates—whether atop a grand piano for the torchy "Funny Honey" or struttin' with a line of sexy chorus boys through the self-aggrandizing "Roxie." Often a throwaway number, Darr and the boys come near stopping the show with a rousingly choreographed, beautifully costumed "Me and My Baby" at the top of act two. As her cunning competitor Velma Kelly, Village newbie Desirée Davar looks sensational, dances seductively and vocalizes with brassy skill on the opening "All That Jazz"—and does well with her other big featured solos "I Can't Do It Alone" and "When Velma Takes the Stand," as well as holding her own in "I Am My Own Best Friend" and "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag" with the dynamic Darr. Davar doesn't quite create her own distinctive characterization for Velma, but she is still a talent to be reckoned with.

Timothy McCuen Piggee, who delivered an unforgettable Don Quixote in Village's Man of La Mancha a few seasons back, triumphs anew as the slick and savvy lawyer Billy Flynn, charming and disarming in his every scene and with vibrant vocals on "All I Care About Is Love," "We Both Reached For the Gun" and "Razzle Dazzle." Another new face, and one who should be asked back at the first opportunity, is Shaunyce Omar as Matron Mama Morton. The sassy Ms. Omar comes on resplendently costumed a la Texas Guinan for her establishing solo "When You're Good to Mama" and sells it with a take-no-prisoners power, and later teams with Davar for the raunchily comic ode to "Class." Richard Gray is astutely comic as the cuckolded Amos Hart and touchingly human on his "Mr. Cellophane," while Ryan McCabe scores in a reprise of the role of Mary Sunshine, the reporter with something extra, twinkling through the mock-maudlin "A Little Bit of Good." Art Anderson scores as the seductively smarmy emcee setting up the numbers, and John David Scott is a total riot as the entire jury in Roxie's trial scene. The ace ensemble carries out every stylized movement of Holland's choreography, particularly the ladies who perform the snazzy "Cell-Block Tango" with Davar early in the show.

A final bow to director Tomkins, who makes sure this production has real meat on its bones, keeping it from seeming like an enhanced concert version. This Chicago ain't toddlin', it's terrific!

Chicago runs at the Village Theatre, 303 Front Street in downtown Issaquah, through June 29th, then moves to the Everett P.A. Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett. July 5th through the 28th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or their Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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