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Incline Finishes the Summer with a Hot Chicago

Incline Finishes the Summer with a Hot Chicago

InclineChicagoImage

Review by Doug Iden of Chicago: Incline Theatre

In the full spirit of disclosure, I admit that Chicago is one of my favorite musicals.  I first saw Chicago in Chicago during its initial national tour and became enamored of the scathing satire about corruption and celebrity, the jazzy score written by Kander and Ebb and the eccentric choreography of Bob Fosse.  Consequently, I am favorably disposed to like this show. Fortunately, the production of Chicago at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater more than passes muster.

Led by Alex Caldwell (as Velma Kelly) and Hannah Gregory (as Roxie Hart), the show catapults into an explosion of idiosyncratic dance and jazz in its depiction of the Depression Era craziness in Chicago.

This was the era of the celebrity criminal, reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Based loosely upon actual people, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are placed in custody in a Chicago jail for murder.  Since their crimes were bloody and spectacular, the women became instant darlings of a scandal driven press corps which is brutally castigated in the show.  Velma had been the celebrity star but was eclipsed by Roxie’s murder of her extramarital lover.  A competition then ensues between the women who want fame, fortune and a gold-plated avenue into show business while they await their respective murder trails.  The show has adult, sexual themes.

Alex Caldwell (as Velma) is an excellent dancer (either solo or as part of a chorus) with an acceptable voice.  Hannah Gregory (as Roxie) somewhat steals the show, combining good dancing, vocals and a definite comic flare.  Since this was originally written as a star vehicle for Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, it is imperative that the leading ladies carry the show, and they do.

Dave Wilson portrays the obsequious lawyer Billy Flynn who is more interested in financial gain than the welfare of his two infamous clients.  In a comic but unctuous manner, Wilson sings the disingenuous song “All I Care About is Love”, the hilarious “We Both Reached for the Gun” and the cynical “Razzle Dazzle”.  Wilson has a good voice and is very believable as the shyster lawyer.

There is an excellent supporting cast as well.  In a comic turn, Tyler Gau plays Roxie’s gullible husband Amos Hart who agonizes about his lack of celebrity in the poignant song “Mr. Cellophane”.  The opportunistic prison matron Mamma Morton (Lesley Hitch) evokes her greed in “When You’re Good to Mamma” and there is a surprise in the end with S. Mize’s portrayal of an easily manipulated journalist, Mary Sunshine.

This is a very fast paced show with a lot of frenetic dancing.  Doing Chicago is always tricky because of Fosse’s iconic dancing style.  This show blends Fosse’s signature moves (herky-jerky movements, splayed hands and extensive use of hats) with a more modern interpretation choreographed by Angela Kahle.  Both the men’s and women’s choruses were excellent, displaying high energy, synchronized moves.  One of the highlights is the throbbing, extremely clever “Cell Block Tango” danced in a very sexy manner by the women.  The male chorus responds with “All That Jazz” and “When Velma Takes the Stand”.

Music Director John Slate and the onstage orchestra showcase Kander and Ebb’s music well without drowning out the performers and Director Matthew Wilson moves the show in a crisp manner.

The single set serves for multiple scenes with a speakeasy on the main stage and two staircases on either side of the stage going up to a balcony.  On the main stage is a mini-stage where some of the night club numbers are sung.   Behind the mini-stage is a crooked frame which, symbolically, displays the show’s theme.

A few quibbles.  Initially, there were some issues with the mics which affected the opening number “All That Jazz”.  Alex Caldwell’s voice was somewhat swallowed by the chorus and the mic.  Also, in the closing scene, Velma and Roxie are supposed to be perfectly synchronized during the dance number “Nowadays”.  This is a little more than nitpicking since the number is supposed to display the characters’ vaudeville talent and their equality as dancers after their ongoing feud while in prison.

However, grab your bathtub gin and your shimmy-shake and see Chicago playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater through September 4, 2016.