Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe


Musical Theatre Southwest
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Wally's review of Sonder: Transformations and Rob's review of God of Carnage

Lisette Mowery and Christy Burbank
Photo by Jason Ponic
Get ready for a colorful array of shoulder rolls, shimmies, and semi-twerks. Bob Fosse's style of choreography is the featured star in Musical Theatre Southwest's production of Chicago. The choreography has been a highlight of Chicago (book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb) since it first appeared on Broadway in 1975. That first run was nearly 1000 performances and it was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, but came away empty-handed. The musical has been even more successful 1996 revival, which is still running. It was nominated for eight Tonys, winning six. The revival holds the record as the second-longest run of a Broadway musical with 7489 performances—beat only by The Phantom of the Opera.

Alissa Hall, who co-directs the MTS production of Chicago with David Bryant, handles the choreography with assistance from Robert Carbajal. Hall notes that "she owes her entire career in musical theatre" to one of Fosse's company dancers, Rima Vargas-Vetter. Hall studied with Vargas-Vetter in the 1990s, and it was Vargas-Vetter who encouraged her to audition for musicals. Now she gets to exercise her choreography skills in Fosse's style. The dancing is pure delight, and it's the highlight of this solid production.

The story takes place during the Jazz Age and centers on Roxie Hart (Christy Burbank), who shoots her lover when he decides to dump her. Her only way out of the fix is to hire celebrity attorney Billy Flynn (Mark Pino). Roxie's sad and put-upon husband Amos (Ron Gallegos) struggles to put together the $5000 Flynn charges. Flynn's strategy for obtaining Roxie's freedom is to win over the press and the public by making Roxie a celebrity criminal. He's trying to do the same thing with Velma Kelly (Lisette Mowery), but Billy has more to work with in Roxie—she's telling everyone she's pregnant.

During the Jazz Age in Chicago, criminals like Al Capone were actually becoming celebrities. Chicago was based on a play of the same name by the playwright and reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins who covered the 1924 trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune. The two women had become celebrities just like Roxie and Velma. In Chicago in the 1920s, there was a series of high-profile trials of women who had killed their husbands or lovers. Many of these murderesses were celebrated in the press and ultimately acquitted by all-male juries.

The production by Bryant and Hall is solid throughout. The nine-piece orchestra led by conductor Xavier Visage is jazzy with a punch. The acting, singing, and dancing performances are very much an ensemble work. Everyone delivers well. Much of the story's focus and key songs go to Burbank as Roxie. She does a terrific job of capturing Roxie's manipulative pretend-dumb panache. Burbank also excels with Roxie's voice and dancing. Mowery as Velma and Ashley Lopez as Matron "Mama" Morton also deliver strong performances.

Congratulations for the fine work form the production team, including Sage Hughes as stage manager, Wendie and Mike Cutcher with set design and build, Michael Hidalgo with lighting design, Lando Ruiz with sound design, and DeAnna Gonzales with costume design. It's a beautiful show by everyone involved, and especially the leftover licks of Bob Fosse.

Chicago, through April 28, 2019, at the Musical Theatre Southwest, Black Box theatre, 6320 Domingo Rd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $25. For seniors, students, and ATG members, admission is $23. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at