'Chicago'

The cast performs “All That Jazz” in the Village Theatre’s production of “Chicago.” (Photo by Jay Koh / contributed)

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Chicago” was always ahead of its time. 

The original 1975 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by the brilliant Bob Fosse, was successful but received a tepid to mixed critical reception. 

It wasn’t until the 1996 Broadway revival, when a cultural shift indicated the public was now accustomed to its “criminal as celebrity” theme, that “Chicago” became a mega-hit. According to Wikipedia statistics, the revival has played more than 6,472 performances; making it the third longest-running show in Broadway history. 

The revival spawned Rob Marshall’s Academy Award winning 2002 movie version, which sparked a brief resurgence of the movie musical genre as well.

I saw the Broadway revival in 2005. It was exciting, but notable primarily for its “stripped down” style. The cast was dressed completely in black, the orchestra was on stage, and the set design consisted of a few chairs. There is nothing “stripped down” about the Village Theatre production. 

A full set design

Director Steve Tomkins explains, “Fosse’s indelible imprint on ‘Chicago’ resonates in any production. We wanted to pay homage ... and yet create a production that was not a copy of the revival.” 

This production features a full set design by Tom Sturge, and there is no shortage of razzle dazzle elsewhere, either. 

In Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes, everyone glitters in shades of blue, black, silver, and gold. 

The vibrant musical direction by Tim Symons and R.J. Tancioco makes the John Kander and Fred Ebb score, including the showstopping “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “We Both Reached For The Gun,” “Razzle Dazzle” and “Hot Honey Rag,” irresistible. Kristin Holland’s stunning choreography provides the perfect mix of sizzle, sass and sex. 

This production, popping with astonishing vitality, is as intoxicating and super-energized as a caffeine binge. Fosse would be so proud.

Respectful of original

Holland is respectful of Fosse’s original concept of all musical numbers reflecting a different vaudeville style or entertainer. There is very little breathing space between the musical numbers, however. This was likely a deliberate tactic by Fosse to distract from the fact that the plot, derived from Maurine Dallas Watkins’ account of two sensational murder trials in 1920s Chicago, features some unsavory characters. 

There is very little subtlety or depth to the characters, although they are vividly portrayed by an excellent cast. Roxie (Taryn Darr) and Velma (Desiree Davar) are two remorseless murderesses who hope their crimes will make them celebrities. That is not a far-fetched notion, because as Mama Morton (Shaunyce Omar) says, “In this town, murder is a form of entertainment.” 

Roxie and Velma are coached by their lawyer Billy Flynn (a perfectly sleazy Timothy McCuen Piggee) on how to manipulate the media and sway the jury. Darr is perfectly cast as conniving Roxie, whose bombshell, baby doll sex appeal barely conceals a heart as cold as ice. Perhaps the only sympathetic character is Amos, Roxie’s hapless yet devoted husband. Richard Gray’s performance of Amos’ solo “Mr. Cellophane” makes him instantly endearing. As Velma, Davar is a hot bundle of talent, with a performance style reminiscent of Liza Minnelli at her best.

Very funny

Although the satirical and cynical tone of “Chicago” may put some people off, it is also very funny. You have to laugh when characters as unscrupulous as Mama Morton and Velma complain, in the ironic number “Class” that society suffers from a lack of good manners and decent human values. 

And “sob sister” reporter Mary Sunshine has a hilarious secret I would not dare reveal. In addition, the stamina displayed by the indefatigable dancing ensemble will likely leave you in breathless awe. 

It doesn’t matter if you see this production in Issaquah or Everett. But, whatever you do, go see “Chicago.”

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