The gin may not be cold (or available), but the dancing is certainly hot in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of Chicago. Set in a Prohibition-era Windy City, Chicago is inhabited by irredeemable (yet likable) hucksters and hustlers, all dancing for their lives. The bondage-lite costumes and the spare, gritty set only rarely hint at the Jazz Age, but that’s just as well: the story at the heart of Chicago, about crime, corruption, sensational journalism, the cult of celebrity and all that jazz, feels contemporary and relatable.
Dance is featured prominently in this production, and the ensemble cast delivers. Throughout the show, the Merry Murderesses and the Boys strut their stuff with some elaborate and sultry choreography. The stunning “Cell Block Tango” is aggressive and slinky, starting the show off with plenty of momentum. Frenetic choreography (coupled with the dark, merry-go-round broke down quality of the instrumentals) make “Razzle Dazzle” sufficiently creepy. The ensemble singing suffered a bit at times, but with all of the demanding footwork required along with the vocals, this is hardly surprising, and will likely improve as the run continues.
The leads similarly show off some very accomplished dancing. Jennifer Madill Hagen plays murderess Velma Kelly, the surviving half of a two-bit vaudeville sister act, with infectious enthusiasm and plenty of comedic mugging. The high-energy “I Can’t Do it Alone” features Madill Hagen performing some stunning dance moves, and her duet with Mama Morton (Priscilla McRoberts), “Whatever Happened to Class?,” showcases her considerable vocal talent. Sarah Diener, as Roxie Hart, deftly embodies a scheming nobody who dreams of instant fame. Though Roxie seeks celebrity through such unsavory means as adultery and fraud, Diener manages to express hidden depth in her character: her solo turn in “Nowadays” becomes a surprisingly cynical, rather than celebratory, commentary on the times.
Priscilla McRoberts’ performance of Mama Morton is marked by her exceptional comic timing and rich alto voice; she is especially winning in her performance of “When You’re Good to Mama.” Greg J. Anderson is wonderfully well cast as Amos Hart, Roxie’s wishy-washy, easy mark of a husband. Anderson refrains from playing the role too broadly, and the resulting performance, while comic, nevertheless makes Amos a touchingly pathetic figure. On the other end of the spectrum, Cal Metts plays soulless shyster Billy Flynn with disingenuous charm, all debonair voice and smooth hoofing. Gabe Mayfield acts as the enigmatic Master of Ceremonies: sometimes a barker for coming attractions, sometimes a lurking observer, and sometimes a participant in the action, while “G. Spelvin” makes a delightful and surprising turn as Mary Sunshine.
The Playhouse production of Chicago, with its flashy choreography and jazzy songs, generates plenty of welcome heat in these seemingly endless wintry days: you’re likely to leave the theatre humming and tapping your toes, ready to paint the town.
Hail of Bullets:
Where: The Duluth Playhouse
When: March 31 to April 17 (Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM).
*April 6 is Ladies’ Night: features complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks at Ace’s On First before the show, a shuttle between the Playhouse and Ace’s on First, as well as post-show drink specials. $30 for the show and reception at Ace’s on First (contact the Playhouse for more details).
Be aware that tickets to Chicago are going fast! However, waiting lists and rush lists are an option if shows are sold out: contact the Playhouse box office for more information.
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