Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s production “Chicago” is a thoroughly enjoyable, funny and jazzy musical that hits nothing but high notes despite being all about a couple of murderous women and their sleazy lawyer.
Written by the great team of John Kander and Fred Ebb with book by Ebb and the incomparable Bob Fosse, it is a foot-tapping, belly laughing, sexy comedy, and TMP director and choreographer Jon Douglas Rake and his cast outdo themselves on it. Rake’s choreography is right out of Fosse’s book, and what could be better?
On the way to the theater I listened to the original Broadway cast album and wondered if they could possibly match it. Could Jeff Stvrtecky’s orchestra match the growling horns and tinny piano of the original? Could a Tacoma theater find singers that could belt it out like Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon, or could they find a comic actor who could play the “Cellophane Man” with the poignancy of a Joel Gray?
Well, guess what? They did match it in many ways and in some respects bettered the stage original and the 2002 film version starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. I liked Mary Sunshine’s “A Little Bit of Good” better than the same song on the cast album, and Rafe Wadleigh was a much more entertaining Billy Flynn than Gere in the movie. (By the way, the actor playing Mary Sunshine was listed in the program as Stephanie Bea, a stage name; since the theater didn’t reveal the actor’s real name, I won’t reveal it either.)
Chris Serface, a longtime favorite of TMP and Capital Playhouse patrons, was wonderful as Amos Hart. His rendition of “Cellophane Man” was both touching and funny. This was one of Serface’s best roles since playing Lumieré in “Beauty and the Beast.”
The leading ladies, Kristin Burch as Roxie Hart and Candi Hall as Velma Kelly, are outstanding. These two characters are so much alike, they’re practically twins, yet they are bitter rivals. They are flirtatious, devious, selfish, absolutely devoid of morals, and as loveable as can be. Burch and Hall play them to the hilt. Their jazzy moves, their expressions and their energy are all captivating. (Note: In the Oct. 13, 20 and 21 shows, Lauren Nance will play Roxie and Burch will play Kitty.)
I can’t imagine anyone being a better Billy Flynn than Wadleigh. He’s got Billy’s arrogant sneer down pat and he sings magnificently. When he belts out “Razzle dazzle ’em,” he truly does.
Carmen Brantley Payne plays Mama Morton, the prison guard who uses the female prisoners for fun and money. TMP patrons will remember her as the church singer in “The Color Purple.” She’s in fine voice on her introductory number, the rocking comedy song “When You’re Good to Mama.”
Will Abrahamse’s set is a beautifully simple art nouveau stage with curtain and faux marble and marquee lights spelling out the word Chicago, nicely lighted in rich red, blues and purples (with excellent lighting by John Chenault). Rather than sticking Stvrtecky’s orchestra in the usual pit in the wings, they are ensconced on the roof of the stage, which is very effective.
The TMP website lists it as “not recommended for theatergoers under age 13.” There is some risqué humor and references and some sexy dance moves, but I can’t imagine anything in this musical being inappropriate for children. ‘Chicago ‘
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Oct. 21
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Information: 253-565-6867, tmp.org firstname.lastname@example.org Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions. Coming in October are reviews of “Richard III” at Harlequin Productions in Olympia and “The Buddy Holly Story” at Capital Playhouse in Olympia.