Turning criminals into a particular kind of celebrity isn’t anything new.
Long before 48 Hours and Dateline, decades before the trials of already-infamous defendants became fodder for obsessive television coverage, a Chicago Tribune reporter named Maurine Dallas Watkins used her experiences covering the trials of two women acquitted of murder to write the 1926 play Chicago, a play staged by soon-to-be theater legend George Abbott.
In the mid-1970s, director-choreographer Bob Fosse and the composer-lyricist team of John Kander and Fred Ebb transformed Chicago into a hit musical. Revived in a Tony Award-winning 1996 production, Chicago has been running ever since, making it Broadway’s longest-running revival. Who says crime doesn’t pay at the box office?
The Boca Raton Theatre Guild has just opened its production of the revival-edition Chicago, which is in the hybrid style of a dance-heavy concert with simply staged scenes. Director Keith Garsson, choreographer Ron Hutchins and musical director Eric Alsford all play key roles in the look, flow and sound of the show, which features 18 hard-working performers, including three musical theater veterans as its stars. The result is entertaining, but it’s also as uneven as the production’s sound levels.
Krisha Marcano, who created the role of Squeak in The Color Purple on Broadway, is a luminous Velma Kelly, the fame-hungry vaudevillian who landed in the slammer after shooting her sister and her husband, who happened to be occupying the same bed. Marcano’s rich voice does justice (and then some) to All That Jazz, My Own Best Friend, I Know a Girl and Nowadays, and she nails Hutchins’ Fosse-style choreography like no one else in the cast -- no surprise, since she appeared in the national tour of Fosse.
As Roxie Hart, the gal who murders her lover when he announces he’s dumping her, Patti Gardner is more perky than foxy, but the choice works. She’s all wide-eyed faux innocence, funny and ruthless as she swipes Velma’s best courtroom moves and repeatedly exploits the gullibility of her sad-sack hubby Amos (Ken Clement, who’s terrific and in fine voice as Roxie’s patsy).
Avi Hoffman, who plays lawyer Sid Raskin on TV’s Magic City, is a different kind of legal eagle in Chicago. His Billy Flynn is a publicity hound, a guy who’ll slide a showcase murder client to the back burner whenever a more sensational killer hits the headlines. He’s sly and funny as Roxie’s truth-twisting mouthpiece -- he’s the ventriloquist, she’s the dummy -- on We Both Reached for the Gun.
Sally Bondi brings strength and humor to the conniving prison matron, Mama Morton, and her duet with Marcano on the comically offensive Class is one of the production’s indisputable vocal highlights. Another standout is “announcer” Matthew Korinko, who brings just the right tone of bemused irony to his scene-bridging narration. Too bad he doesn’t have more to do in the show.
One puzzling decision is the casting of Sharyn Peoples (who is a perfectly fine, appealing actress) as sob-sister journalist Mary Sunshine. The role is usually played by a guy in drag, a truth that’s revealed after Billy comments that things aren’t always as they seem; here, the line is meaningless.
The chorus performers aren’t the 3-D centerfolds that audiences at the Broadway revival are used to seeing, but they sing and move well, even if some don’t come close to those Fosse moves that Marcano does so very well.