If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

A Tame "Chicago"

At a recent performance of the musical “Chicago” at the Ivoryton Playhouse, Artistic Director Jacqui Hubbard informed theatergoers that, “This is Ivoryton’s “Chicago”, not Broadway’s”. Ivoryton’s venerable theatre has been around long enough to take plenty of chances and not have to explain itself. We don’t expect comparisons to Broadway simply because the budget and facility are not comparable. Recent productions of “Memphis”, “South Pacific” and “Dreamgirls” at Ivoryton have more than held their own under critical scrutiny. With “Chicago”, however, some crucial aspects of the musical are missing and it has nothing to do with budget.

“Chicago” is the long-running musical hit and Oscar-winning film by John Kander, Fred Ebb and the incomparable Bob Fosse whose signature choreography for the show was and is still legend. The musical is a profoundly cynical look at celebrity worship, a corrupt legal system and a no-nothing press as two murderesses during the 1920s, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, vie for column inches in local newspapers. Suffice it to say that “Chicago” is still as timely as tomorrow’s Facebook entry.

Directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood, this is a “Chicago” played at a low simmer instead of a hearty boil. Performances, especially in the juicy supporting roles, are rendered at half-power and seem smaller than written. Chief among these is Christopher Sutton’s Billy Flynn, the bombastic, showboating lawyer who takes on both women’s cases and plays the press like a fiddle. Sutton has the right vocal chops but tends to throw away lines and underplay the role as if for the camera instead of the stage.

This is also true of Sheniqua Denise Trotman’s “Mama” Morton, the prison matron. No one seems to have explained to the actress the numerous double entendres in Morton’s gloriously suggestive song, “When You’re Good to Mama”. Trotman made a solid professional debut in Ivoryton’s “Dreamgirls” a few seasons back, but seems unduly muted here. Again, there is no question she can sing, it’s the performance that’s far too demure.

Perhaps closest to a Fosse-inspired performance is Stacey Harris’ sassy Velma. There’s a real spark in evidence here and her dancing nicely recalls those of the master. Lyn Philistine’s Roxie can be fun but is a tad too wholesome for the role lacking sexual danger in a performance that also seems too eager to please. Z. Spiegel plays newspaper sob sister Mary Sunshine with the appropriate amount of saccharine, but it’s a shame her big reveal at the musical’s climax is so confusingly staged that it has little payoff. Ian Greer Shain, as Roxie’s milquetoast husband Amos, does a suitable job with his signature song, “Mister Cellophane”, even with some fussy direction that has the actor pulling scarves out of his jacket like a demented magician.

The spare setting by Martin Scott Marchitto works fine though I question the purpose of the cumbersome and little-used scaffolding units on stage right and left. Elizabeth Cipollina has gone for more traditional period costuming for most of the cast eschewing Fosse’s array of sexy black uniforms. Musical Director Paul Feyer and his small orchestra can’t diminish the great score, but this still remains a lesser version of “Chicago” despite the best efforts of all involved.

“Chicago” continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, Connecticut through July 24. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.767.7318 or visit: www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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