THE LADIES OF ‘CHICAGO’ MAKE SURE WE KNOW WE ‘HAD IT COMIN’ THIS JAILHOUSE MUSICAL IS A MUST SEE
The Razzle Dazzle of CHICAGO The Musical has taken over downtown San Jose as the SJ Stage Company continues their exciting 37th season. Roxie and Velma are currently fighting for their freedom from men “who had it coming”, in a very classy jazz hands production of CHICAGO through March15th at the San Jose 1st street stage. SJSC Artistic Director, Randall King, says he is thrilled to begin the decade with CHICAGO; ”The timeless style of Bob Fosse, pulling back the curtain on the seduction of media and the corruption of justice/ the true crime story from a century ago is as relevant today as it was in the Roaring Twenties.” King also directs this company and he brings a rock edge to the show with sleek excitement.
The story follows domestic killers Roxie Hart played by the sassy Monique Hafen Adams and Velma Kelly played by the terrific Allison F. Rich.The story follows domestic killers Roxie Hart played by the sassy Allison F. Rich and Velma Kelly played by the terrific Monique Hafen Adams. They meet in a city jail, where they compete for their freedom from murder and domestic violence based on how much press their lawyer, Billy Flynn, can garner. Flynn is played by local favorite Keith Pinto. CHICAGO gets away with murder not just because its main character, the heroine with moxie, Roxie Hart, is acquitted for a killing she clearly committed, but because the story manages to sell its songs. It sells them hard starting right from the top with “All That Jazz.” The music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, written in 1975, are clever and catchy. Director King has assembled a sizzling cast of the Bay’s best including terrific male dancers; Patrick Wayne Brewer, Matthew Kropschot, Vinh G Nguyen, Nick Rodrigues, and Tony Wooldridge.
Chororagraher and dance captain Tracey Freeman Shaw honors classic Fosse in some brilliant dance numbers including “Cell Block Tango” and the show stopping “We Both Reached for the Gun”. The choreography originally created by Bob Fosse back in 1975 is clearly referenced in this jazzy more rock production. CHICAGO isn't just the story, it also is the mark of theater legend Fosse who choreographed the original show, and is partly a homage to the city where he was born and the Watergate Nixon era.
If you’ve got a great Roxie, you’ve got a full proof CHICAGO. If you are going to root for a gal you know is guilty of murder, she’s got to earn your love. Adams is a powerhouse who sings, dances and tells a joke with charm. She keeps the material fresh and sets a tone the cast follows and she opens her story with “Funny Honey”.
Rich as Velma proves her vocal chops in the classic “And All That Jazz” with eye catching dance moves with the ensemble of talented dancers. Velma, who is not happy about being ignored in the headlines needs the sympathy from a tabloid reporter named Mary Sunshine played by the whitty and campy Kyle Bielfied who shines in her solo “A Little Bit of Good”.
Director Kings brilliant casting of Bay Area diva Branden Noel Thomas as the jailhouse icon, Mama Morton is the highlight of this cast. Thomas belts out the classic “When You’re Good to Mama” who brings a vibrant charm to Mama and stops the show whenever they are on stage.
The leading male in this female stage of killers is their lawyer Billy Flynn, played with dapper class by SJSC vet Keith Pinto. He sings “All I Care About” with that lawyer Fosse swagger in the back lights of Michael Palumbo’s dynamic lighting design. King’s direction is vibrant and decadent fun; his troupe of actor/dancers are dressed in garter belts and classic 1920s style suits and black lingerie designed by Ashley Garlick. She kept Velma and Roxie sexy, yet poignant in their prison heels and a closing surprise eye candy look.
The first act show stopper “We Both Reach For The Gun” with Roxie, Billy and cast is an energized production number featuring the entire enthusiastic ensemble. Under the music direction of Benjamin Belew, and his stunning eight piece orchestra is part of the story and is set on stage with the cast. This Las Vegas type look is how Ebb and Fosse originally designed the show.
The built-in strength of Kander and Ebb’s score fits the San Jose 200 seat venue immersing the audience into the performance. CHICAGO offers a tangy slice early on with “Cell Block Tango,’’ in which Velma and a host of other murderesses, fully realized by Tracey Freeman- Shaw, Jacqueline Neeley, Jill Miller, Monica Moe and Zoey Lytle as the elegant ballet dancer Hunyak. All seated in chairs facing the audience, the women take turns spelling out just how and why they dispatched the nettlesome men in their lives, in the number “He had it comin’/He had it comin’/He only had himself to blame.’’
Amos Hart, Roxie’s husband, is perfectly maudlin, and the stellar Sean Doughty delivers a solid performance in the solo “Mr. Cellophane” and the opening night audience fell for his invisible likeability. It is Mama who says of Chicago: “In this town, murder’s a form of entertainment.’ and Rich and Adams steal the stage when Velma and Mama sing “Class”.
Pinto shines in the clever “Razzle Dazzle.’’ Pinto is confident in this number as the lawyer elaborates on his methods of shenanigans while the ensemble dances sinuously around him in a circus fashion. The creative team of CHICAGO brings this dance show a more sleek and modern and kept the set and props simple. Robert Pickering’s set design brings the show right to your seat. A simple black box set framed with a CHICAGO banner with minimal set pieces highlighted by Garlick’s costumes and Michael Palumbo’s jazzy Vegas light design. His back lights capture those “Jazz Hands” in “Mr. Cellophane”. The props by Caitlin Elizabeth included an array of weapons for the women and cameras for the press, and wonderful boa feathers for Billy's entrance. The sound design by Steve Schoenbeck was full-throttle making sure the two killers hit every note and the on stage band was thrilling.
Fosse would be pleased by the dancing which still carries his trademarks. It is carnality popped shoulders, splayed fingers, and top hats. This CHICAGO is electrifying and the company made it their own. With the orchestra set up center stage, and wailing Chicago in the ’20s, the music, the lyrics, and the sex, this version delivers. All of that and the Razzle Dazzle will highlight your visit with Velma and Roxie. Next up at the SJSC is Tracy Letts’ Tony winner AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY that opens April 8th. But in the meantime join the #meToo women of CHICAGO and “All That Jazz”.
SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Musical Book and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on a play by Maureen Dallas Watkins
Adaptation by David Thompson
Directed by Randall King
Musical Direction by Ben Belew ,
Choreographer Tracy Freeman Shaw
Only through March 15th
The San Jose Stage
490 1st Street San Jose Ca
Two acts with an intermission 2 hours
Photos by DAVE LEPORI