You must excuse me while I consult my thesaurus in search of additional laudatory adjectives for the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “Chicago.”
To paraphrase Johnny Mercer, “It’s just too marvelous for words!” And that is an understatement!
Let me begin my saying that “Chicago” is one of my very favorite musicals and I have seen it too many times in too many incarnations not to be just a bit wary of any new production.
I should remember, however, that when director/choreographer Scott Michaels promises to “knock your socks off” it’s not just an empty threat.
Of course, he has a lot of help from WW’s fantastic costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck and its equally marvelous music director Thomas N. Sterling, lighting designer Greg Griffin and sound man Chris Pollnow, but as everyone knows, the buck (sorry Harry!) stops at the door of the director.
Playing on a set designed by the late Roy Hine for a WW production of “Cabaret,” Michaels creates atmosphere-plus as he brings to life the Windy City in the Roaring Twenties when prohibition was a way of life and murder was entertainment.
With an excellent 10-piece orchestra playing the heck out of John Kander’s score and an incredible aggregation of singers and dancers doing the same with Fred Ebb’s lyrics and the oh-so-sly book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, there is nothing to be done but sit back and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it is!
From the opening number, which puts a new twist on “All That Jazz,” to the fiery finale, there is not one solo, duet or chorus number that is not above and beyond expectations, no matter how high the bar is set.
My personal favorite is the “Cell Block Tango” to which has been added wonderful dashes of brilliant color in place of the traditional black-on-black costuming. Ditto the shimmering ensembles and giant feather fans that surround the entrance of super barrister Billy Flynn, played with just the right touch of narcissistic swagger by David Schlumpf.
In this “Chicago,” glitz and glitter are the words of the day. They are, be assured, just the icing on the multi-layered cake of razor sharp dance routines and endlessly breathless vocals. I did not time Schlumpf’s final note at the end of a frenzied
“We Both Reached for the Gun,” but it had everyone in the audience gasping for breath before he finally let it go.
There is no doubt that the focus is most often on Roxie Hart (Erika Henningsen) and Velma Kelly (Hillary Smith), two “merry murderesses” in Cook County Jail. Their tug of war for the celebrity criminal spotlight results in one great song-and-dance routine after another. Individually both are outstanding and when they join forces for a grand finale, it is nothing short of spectacular.
And they are surrounded by a cast as close to perfect as possible. Sarah Jackson takes grey feather boa in hand to lay out the rules of incarcerated behavior and receives one of the many show-stopping ovations for her efforts. Lee Slobotkin is an unbelievably believable Mary Sunshine, the reporter who tries to find “A Little Bit of Good” in everyone. Dan Smith is a pitiable Amos Hart whose efforts to keep his uncaring wife are rewarded by the audience which provides his “exit music.”
And then there is the ensemble, 11 singers and dancers who strike just the right notes and poses needed to underscore the
satirical form of this vaudevillian-style tale. Note: Keep your eyes on the “jury” during Billy Flynn’s summation.
The expertise of the staging throughout is somewhat mind-boggling. No matter where you sit, you won’t miss a thing, not easy to say about a production in-the-round which must play to all sides. This is especially impressive in the Billy/Roxie “press conference.”
The multi-award-winning revival of “Chicago” has been playing on Broadway for a record-breaking 16 years. The Wagon Wheel Theatre production shows just why.
“CHICAGO” plays through July 20 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For show times and tickets, call 1 (866) 823-2618 or on line at www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.