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Fred Shaw [ALL REVIEWERS]
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Rosewater Theatre Company1
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REVIEWS

Chicago, by Kander and Ebb
The criminal-as-celebrity
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
4.5
"Chicago the Musical" is a show not notable for any particular tune in its score. The original Broadway production with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and the Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse ran from 1975 to 1977-936 performances. The 1996 revival of the show, however, holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on record.

As of July 2007 there have been 4400 performances on Broadway and it garnered seven Tonys, more than any other revival in history. It has also been running in London's West End since 1997 and continues to this date. A 2002 film version won the Oscar for Best Picture.

You should ask me, if the tunes aren't memorable what makes "Chicago" the great show that it is? Take your pick. The story is interesting-filled with cynicism, greed, murder and sex. Its setting is a Chicago of the 1920's where jazz, illegal booze and crooks flourish.

It takes aim at the sensation-seeking press and lawyers. The dancing is exiting and athletic in the style of Bob Fosse. The tunes may not be memorable but the jazz rhythms are great. Finally the shows central theme is the criminal-as-celebrity, a theme we seem to be revisiting at this time.
The story is about two murderers, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Velma shot her husband and the other half of her vaudevillian sister act when she found they were lovers. Chorus girl Roxie kills her lover then convinces her husband, Amos she shot a burglar. He confesses to the police then recants his testimony when he finds out the burglar's identity.

Both Roxie and Velma go to the Cook County Jail. A corrupt matron "Mama" Morton has a system of mutual aid ("When You're Good to Mama") and works with a crooked lawyer, Billy Flynn. ("All I Care About is Love") Velma and Roxie vie for the limelight, not only to get out of jail but to become famous and rich.

The Cumming Playhouse is not an old theatre as is The Holly in Dahlonega or The Canton Theatre but is in an old schoolhouse. The theatre is the old auditorium and has been refinished to perfection. The center isle which is at least fourteen feet wide with a hardwood floor is aesthetically pleasing, lends itself to a feeling of openness and facilitates easy access from the stage to the audience.

The Rosewater Theatre Company is comprised, in the most part, of people who are from the Cumming area. The cast, including the principal players, are local. The reasons for the success of the show can easily be drawn from the opening number, "All That Jazz". The stage is filled with dancers all active and energetic. The music is invigorating (This tune is memorable.)
Velma, played by Lauren Jann, leads the number. She seems to drive the chorus with her enthusiasm. Not only is her dancing exceptional but she has a voice to match-clear and true with great projection. I expected to hear her puffing by the end of this very active number but she kept her breath control to the end. She only gets to rest for one number when she appears along with Roxie and four other murderesses to do "The Cell Block Tango", another active dance number.

Roxie, played by Lisa Riley, sings the shows second number, "Funny Honey". Lisa, who is also the company's managing director, filled in for the original cast member who was to play Roxie. The original Roxie was injured. I didn't realize the full impact of this until Lisa and Lauren did the final number, a Charleston tempo that required a great deal of energy. Lisa performed more than admirably; she actually kept pace with Lauren, which is not an easy task. Lisa confessed after this opening night show that the eight weeks of rehearsal were grueling, but it was worth the effort.

A surprise in casting is the role of "Mama" Morton played by Kathy Russell. If you saw the movie Queen Latifah was "Mama" in this Sophie Tucker, Mae West type of character. Kathy is a slim version in a business suit but equally affective and sinister. Her version of "When You're good to Mama" where she goes into the audience to sing was well received. Her fine voice is also evident in a great, but smutty, duet with Velma called "Class". (This show is not really appropriate for children.)

Daniel VanHiel is a slick-looking Billy Flynn. He and Lisa do a great job on one of my favorite numbers in the show a ventriloquist act called "We Both Reached for the Gun" or "The Press Conference Rag"-Roxie, who in court must remain quiet, is the dummy and Billy, the smooth talking lawyer, pulls the strings. Daniel, surrounded by the chorus, also sang "All I Care about is Love" with sincere insincerity.

Another surprise was A.L. Pickard who is the do-gooder reporter, Little Miss Sunshine. Her operatic, soprano voice singing "A Little Bit of Good" is in contrast to the other voices in the show and was, I thought, very affective.

Nick Morrett, a senior at Kennesaw State, plays the dense and bumbling Amos, Roxie's husband. He doesn't get a chance to sing until the second act but then exhibits a good voice with great feeling in his only song "Mr. Cellophane".

Both Nancy and I had a great time for our first visit to The Cumming Playhouse and want to thank the cast and crew of "Chicago the Musical" for an enjoyable evening. We recommend you get your tickets and enjoy the show. We can also recommend Tam's Backstage Restaurant for dinner. It is in the same building at 101 School Street in Cumming.

Fred Shaw (Theatre Critic)
Smoke Signals on Line
www.bigcanoenews.com



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