Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Moonlight Stage Productions
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

Roxane Carrasco and Cast
Photo by Ken Jacques
Few musicals have the reputation that Chicago does, and fewer have one that's changed so significantly over time. Despite it receiving several Tony Award nominations, many critics and audiences thought the material too bleak when the show first ran on Broadway in 1975. Twenty-one years later, the 1996 revival received rave reviews and is still running on Broadway. Audiences increasingly warmed up to the edgy plot, to composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb's intelligently memorable songs, and to the choreography that honored the legendary Bob Fosse. Moonlight Stage Productions' staging in Vista uses all these elements for a cynically funny and visually seductive interpretation.

The story is based on the 1926 play of the same name, with narcissistic housewife Roxie Hart (Terra C. MacLeod) cheating on her husband Amos (Randall Hickman). In a fit of rage, Roxie shoots her lover Fred Casely (Tim Stokel) when he ends their affair. She goes to prison charged with murder, and hires the greedy, smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (David Engel) to defend her in court. This leads to tension between Roxie and another of Billy's clients, the vaudeville performer Velma Kelly (Roxane Carrasco). Both Velma and Roxie desperately want to get out of prison, and are willing to do anything to "earn" their freedom.

David Thompson's script adaptation, from Ebb and Fosse's original book, has plenty of vaudeville-style humor, with characters, for instance, often speaking directly to the audience. There are almost no "decent" or law-abiding people in the script, and the comedic writing keeps audiences entertained by what's essentially a cast of criminal characters. Even during the bleakest of moments, the hilarious lines and plot developments keep theatregoers from feeling too uncomfortable or shocked. The performers handle every spoken line, song and dance movement with total commitment to Kander, Ebb and Fosse's storytelling and vision.

MacLeod and Carrasco have both starred in the Broadway version, and the rivalry they depict at the Moonlight Amphitheatre is enjoyable and fun to watch. Whether they are verbally clashing or sharing a duet, such as in the song, "My Own Best Friend," they richly depict two women with many similarities and differences. As the two most important non-criminals in the tale, Engel is cold, charismatic and calculating as Billy, while Hickman plays a husband whose kindness masks a deep sadness. Engel's rendition of "Razzle Dazzle" and Hickman's big solo, "Mr. Cellophane," help emphasize their contrasting personalities. Other ensemble members, including Regina LeVert as the corrupt warden Matron "Mama" Morton, Elle H. Jacobs as the supposedly goodhearted reporter Mary Sunshine, and Danielle Airey as the Eastern European prisoner Hunyak, contribute to the high energy of the show. There is not a dull or uninteresting performance under the direction of James Vásquez and MacLeod.

The directors took over the show from MacLeod's late partner in life, Rick Pessagno, who performed as Fred and was an understudy for Billy in the original 1997 touring version. Vásquez and MacLeod find the right balance between black comedy, dance and music. They direct the songs, mixing numbers with spoken dialogue to advance the narrative, with equal emphasis on spectacle and the plot. The crewmembers' contributions, including Jennifer Edwards' lighting, Plan-B Entertainment's set, and Roz Lehman and Renetta Lloyd's costumes all pay tribute to the classic Broadway production. Despite some initial microphone issues from sound designer Jim Zadai at the performance I attended, the musical numbers are executed with the type of high quality one would expect from Chicago. The onstage band, featuring conductor Kenneth Gammie and musical director/keyboardist JD Dumas, bring a classic style to melodies such as the overture, "All That Jazz," and "When Velma Takes the Stand." Matching the orchestra is the Fosse-influenced choreography by Corey Wright. His dancing uses movements that feels authentic to the 1920s, while also featuring suggestive imagery that still comes across as modern.

For their 38th Summer Season, Moonlight Stage Productions is coming to a strong close. Saying you had a great time at this show isn't a crime.

Moonlight Stage Productions' Chicago, through September 29, 2018, at 1200 Vale Terrace Dr, Vista CA. Performs Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets start at $17.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 760-724-2110.