'Chicago' the musical razzle-dazzles at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Critics On The Aisle: Don Church & Tony Schillaci

For those who haven’t heard about the Ivoryton Playhouse’s latest production of the Kander and Ebb hit Broadway musical Chicago the only advice that can be offered is to rush for tickets -- this razzling dazzling musical is on stage only until July 24.

Brilliant director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood, who directed last season’s Ivoryton smash hit Memphis, infuses Chicago with all the dark sensuality of the jazz age while getting every laugh and poignant moment from Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s book.

This Chicago, set during Prohibition, has everything that makes theater great -- a story of the cult of desire for fame and fortune, corruption, murder, celebrity lawyers and criminals, all rolled up into a theatrical gift basket with brilliant songs and great dancing by a cast of wonderfully talented actors.

Opening the show as Velma Kelly, nightclub vamp extraordinaire, is Stacey Harris, who sings the iconic number “And All That Jazz” with the sensational ensemble men and women who are put through their paces interpreting the exciting choreography of Mr. Underwood. This show contractually does not allow Bob Fosse’s dance patterns to be used, but what you see on the Ivoryton stage freshly captures all the bold creativity and essence of the original show. Ms. Harris makes “All That Jazz” her own, and at the end of the show, singing “Nowadays” with Roxie, she continues to show us what great talent is all about.

Central to the story is Roxie Hart, whose passions lead to murder, and around whom the musical revolves. Lyn Philistine plays Roxie with loveable brashness and heart, and her big dream sequence, “Roxie” lets us in on what she’s aspiring to be -- a star. Ms. Philistine in her own right is just that. She and Ms. Harris are a joy to watch, together and separately. Both women command the kind of attention that -- nowadays- ‘selfies’ elicit. It’s the “look at me” enticement that works excitingly in this show.

As the smarmy legal eagle Billy Flynn, actor Christopher Sutton makes his character both border-line detestable one minute and likeable the next. Billy oozes confidence and sex appeal, and in his signature anthem, “Razzle Dazzle” explains how easy it is to pull the wool over the eyes of nearly everyone. (Had this show been written today, it would be a perfectly sarcastic caricature of a candidate running for US president.) The song, a big ensemble piece, is melodic and exciting, and the cast, led by Mr. Sutton, gives its all to the production number.

Sheniqua Trotman, as Mama Morton, the prison matron with heart, shows us why she won her Connecticut Critics Circle award a few seasons ago for her portrayal of Effie in Ivoryton’s Dreamgirls. Her “When You’re Good To Mama” and “Class” (a duet with Velma) are two numbers that give her big voice a chance to take center stage. Mama Morton is the one to whom all the jailed women turn for solace and sympathy -- for a monetary price, of course. Hence, be good to Mama, and she’ll be good to you.

Z. Spiegel as Mary Sunshine, journalist and gossip, gives her operatic voice a workout in “A Little Bit of Good.” She’s a big girl without a malicious streak -- even though she works for a newspaper. Ian Shain plays Roxie’s shy cuckolded husband, Amos. He does the “Mister Cellophane” song with such pathos and charm that instead of pitying this character, you’ll want to give him a hug.

With an ensemble of a dozen men and women who take on multiple roles in every scene, there are so many great numbers it makes it difficult to pick a favorite. Will yours be the women’s “Cell Block Tango” or the girls and Billy in “All I Care About,” or the men’s “When Velma Takes the Stand,” or “Me and My Baby?” We’re thinking you’ll love a complete ensemble piece, with Billy, Roxie and Mary Sunshine doing “We Both Reach for the Gun.”

This show is chock full of laughs, surprises, thrilling dancing, marvelous singing and a totally likeable cast. Even though some of the characters are kind of rotten, manipulative and selfish, you’ll love them anyway.

The production is directed musically by Paul Feyer, who doubles on keyboard and guides eight great musicians through the jazz age nightly. Set design by Martin Marchitto, lighting design by Marcus Abbott and costume design by Elizabeth Cipollina are all original and distinctive to Ivoryton Playhouse. Check out Mama’s feather coat and Roxie’s red sparkles!

Usually not reviewed are producers. But in this case Executive Producers Michael A. Dattilo and Frank Perrotti deserve special thanks from the theater community. They, along with Executive/Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard, are responsible for giving the gift of exciting professional theater to rural Connecticut.

Even if you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning film, this Chicago,┬álive on stage at the Ivoryton Playhouse is a brilliant don’t miss experience. And here’s a bit of history: the show was revived on Broadway in 1996 and holds the record as the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history, and is the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind "The Phantom of the Opera". The London revival ran for nearly 15 years, becoming the longest-running American musical, ever, on the West End.

We’d love to see this show and cast go on tour intact, even though right now that might not be in the cards. But you can take a quick summer tour to charming Ivoryton through July 24 to be dazzled and jazzed with this delightful Chicago.

Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting the website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle. Published July 10, 2016 on World News Network. Community news via WN by by donchurch



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