Theatre in Review

It’s been quite some time since “Chicago” has actually been performed in Chicago (or thereabouts), but after a ten-year road in obtaining the show’s rights, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook brings home the popular musical created in 1975 – and we are glad they did. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Webb and a book by both Webb and super choreographer Bob Fosse, the musical “Chicago” is based on a 1926 play of the same name. Inspired by actual criminals and crimes reported by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, the story revolves around the notion of the “celebrity criminal” while mocking the Chicago justice system that was in place in the 1920’s, an era where it was also widely suspected that an attractive women could not be convicted of a heinous crime, like say, the murder of her lover or husband. 

In “Chicago” the story starts off with a “bang” when Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) shoots dead her lover on the side. She is quickly arrested and held in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial for murder. In an age when the press sensationalized homicides committed by women (good ol' media), the public quickly buys into the hype making an instant celebrity out of Roxie, and as starved for stardom as the former dancer has always been, she thrives on the new-found attention. In the “pen” Roxie meets several colorful characters, but none as tough as Velma Kelly (Alena Watters), a socialite divorcee and former cabaret singer who is currently the talk of Chicago for the high-profile murder she committed. Velma barely gives Roxie the time of day, instead giving her the cold shoulder. But when Roxie’s popularity soars as the “new story” and Velma’s diminishes, it’s Velma who wants to partner with Roxie for a song and dance nightclub act, this time receiving the cold shoulder from the new celebrity. 

Roxie’s only way to avoid a sentence of death by hanging is to hire the flashy, fast-talking lawyer, Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) for five thousand dollars. Well beyond what the couple can afford, Roxie’s doting, naive and “invisible” husband Amos (Justin Brill) scrapes up what he can and promises Flynn to pay the rest when he can. From there, Flynn turns the case into a dog and pony show, equating the trial as a “three-ring circus”.  

Watters stuns on several occasions as sassy Velma Kelly, winning the audience over almost immediately after a dazzling performance of the musical’s opening number “All That Jazz”. Possessing just the right dose of sexy attitude, Kelly impresses both vocally and in her dancing, her performance nothing short of riveting. As notable as Watters’ portrayal of Velma Kelly, Felthous also knocks the ball out of the park as Roxie Hart, pairing perfectly with her fellow caged dame and giving the show a rock ‘em sock ‘em one-two punch. Felthous convinces as one stricken by delusions of grandeur, confusing the popularity of her murder case as celebrity fame, putting forth an overall display of well-tuned comedic timing to go along with her own vocal prowess and dance ability. As fun to watch as the two are, Watters and Felthous really bring it home in their physically-charged routine “Nowadays”. 

He’s charming, good-looking and possesses a silver tongue that can sway even the toughest juries. Well-cast, singer/songwriter Guy Lockard brightly shines as the smooth defense attorney, Billy Flynn, and gives the show yet another boost, particularly in his courtroom maneuvering melody “Razzle Dazzle”. Justin Brill also contributes nicely in his funny depiction of Amos Hart, a man who is considered so undistinguishable by others he aptly refers to himself as “Mister Cellophane” in one of the show’s most humorous numbers. E. Faye Butler’s strong interpretation of Matron Mama Morton is pivotal, Butler crushing it in the number “When You’re Good to Mama”, a jailhouse tutorial for newly imprisoned Roxie Hart. A talented ensemble also brings another strength to the production in their many alluring dance numbers, perhaps most markedly in “Cell Block Tango”, a sultry ode to the woman prisoner during the revolutionary Jazz age.  

  

This new staging of “Chicago” is colorful and richer than ever thanks to an artistic creative team that includes Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Sully Ratke (Costume Design), Lee Fiskness (Lighting Design), Ray Nardelli (Sound Design), Cassy Schillo (Properties Design), Claire Moores (Wig Design) along with Production Stage Manager Larry Baker. 

“Chicago” is an energy-driven musical that is sexy, fun and truly memorable. Filled with a slew outstanding performances, inventive choreography and a set list that is justly contagious, Drury Lane’s “Chicago” is a can’t miss thrill ride. 

The Roaring Twenties are back...in high style. 

“Chicago” is currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through June 18th. For tickets and/or more show information, click here. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Throughout the years, we have seen all kinds of homages to Elvis Presley whether it be Elvis impersonators, biographical films, Elvis night at U.S. Cellular Field and, of course, theatrical productions. Of these few tribute samples, some are serious and sensitive while others more tongue-in-cheek. “All Shook Up”, a musical using the music of Elvis, is definitely the latter. Now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, “All Shook Up” is a story about an Elvis-alike roustabout who comes across a square town where the tightly-wound mayor has unjustly imparted laws against innocent activities such as kissing in public and dancing or the interracial mixing of partners. Though the plot line is as silly as it gets with unlikely, but still predictable love stories breaking out everywhere, it is hard not to be entertained by the music alone.

David Sajewich plays our hero Chad, the leather jacket clad bad-boy drifter with greased back hair who hops from town to town via his motorcycle with the purpose of challenging authority by infusing fun and excitement into boring and restricted communities. Sajewich is very funny in the role, ever so naturally delivering spot on physical comedy and one hilarious line after another. He also sings several Elvis classics with a good deal of enthusiasm, his vocals finding suitable range for each number despite not having the most powerful of voice. In the show’s opening number, “Jailhouse Rock” we quickly realize Sajewich will not be attempting to sound like Elvis Presley opting to use his own singing voice (writer or director’s choice?), leaving a small amount of disappointment for those who had hoped the story’s character so obviously designed around Elvis would kind of sound like him, if even in a comical way.

Like Abba’s music in Mamma Mia! or Green Day’s in American Idiot, the music of Elvis Presley is transformed into massive stage numbers with changing leads, large choruses and big time dance choreography. It was also refreshing to see such an obscure choice of Elvis Presley songs used for this production rather than only the obvious choices. “All Shook Up” included favorites like “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, Can’t Help Falling in Love”, "A Little Less Conversation” and “It’s Now or Never” but also added lesser known songs (at least outside the Elvis world) such as “Follow that Dream”, “C’mon Everybody”, “Devil in Disguise” and a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can Dream”.

Outside of the campy over-the-top story that is on the borderline of ridiculousness, despite its borrowed storylines from Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night," "As You Like It" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", “All Shook Up” includes several likeable characters that are fun to watch and listen to, especially Bethany Thomas (Sylvia) with her gutsy and very impressive singing voice. Callie Johnson also shows off her comic and singing ability as tomboy motorcycle mechanic Natalie Hallow who is crushing hard on Chad while Justin Brill as the geeky, love stricken Dennis is also enjoyable to watch. Matthias Austin gets some of the biggest laughs as Natalie’s square turned rocker father Jim, as deserved, but Sharriese Hamilton (Lorraine) might just have the best comic timing of the bunch.

Cheesy story and all, “All Shook Up” is a very entertaining show with great music, charm and lots of very funny moments. It’s always nice to see the music of Elvis passed on to new generations and this show is a perfect tool for doing so, as it is a production suitable for all ages alike.    

The rock n’ roll hit Broadway musical “All Shook Up” is being performed at Theatre at the Center through August 16th Wednesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.theatreatthecenter.com

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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