Bob Goepfert Reviews "Chicago" At Albany's Park Playhouse
ALBANY - In the musical “Chicago” there are two leads – Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Both women murdered their husbands and have manipulated their way to become media darlings – which assures they will be acquitted by a celebrity obsessed jury.
Although Madeleine Corliss as Velma and Katy Corbus earn their star status through song, dance and with their captivating stage personalities – in the Park Playhouse production, which continues at Albany’s Washington Park until July 30, there are two other stars of the production. They are the female and male choruses. When the ensemble struts, writhes and bumps in time with the sensuous music this is an enthralling and exciting production. There are a number of first act standout production numbers starting with the classic “All That Jazz” which sets the sexy tone of the evening. The songs, “Cell Block Tango,” “All I Care About Is Love,” and “Roxie” keep that naughty mood alive.
It’s not only the chorus and leads that offer fun. There are some excellent supporting roles as well. Perhaps the most effective moment in the show is the song “Mr. Cellophane” offered by Billie Goldstein who plays Roxie’s sad sack husband Amos. It’s a touching solo that’s effective because Goldstein uses the first act to create such a pathetic and anonymous character.
The same dynamic is in effect with the prison matron Mama Morton played by Molly Rose McGrath. She gets the audience abuzz when she belts out “When You’re Good to Mama.” The character is not unlike the Emcee in “Cabaret” as she comments on the situation with cynical asides throughout the show. Indeed, both shows were written by John Kander and Fred Ebb and the director of this production, Michael LoPorto, directed “Cabaret” at Park Playhouse in 2012, perhaps explaining the darker tone of this production of “Chicago.”
Actually, rather than compare this production to “Cabaret,” it’s probably more accurate to relate it the original 1975 Broadway version which was directed by Bob Fosse and starred Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. It was a modest success running two years. The 1996 revival, which Is still on Broadway, was lighter in tone as it placed the orchestra center stage and treated the material as a satirical spoof rather than a Brechtian message play about the ills of society. At Park Playhouse the terrific dozen-piece orchestra, under the direction of Brian Axford is hidden and the show is more dramatic and less vaudevillian in nature.
This conflict between light and dark might be best illustrated by the role of Billy Flynn, played by Equity actor Rick Roemer. A good actor, Roemer shows Flynn as a hard-nosed lawyer who lacks ethical standards. You know if he got his $5,000 fee from the immigrant Hunyak, she would not have been found guilty of murder and hanged. It’s an honest but cold portrayal and the sleazy character lacks charm. It’s not until the production number “Razzle Dazzle” that Billy takes on the slick, smartest guy in the room attitude that makes him a compelling personality.
Thankfully the bright moments are dazzling and the show is a lot of fun. Thanks to terrific performances, and solid but safe choreography by Ashley-Simone Kirchner you always have a smile on your face. The production has some of the best production standards in Park Playhouse’s history, there is not a weak link in the cast, the musical support is fantastic, and the dancing expert. Plus there are a large number of free seats available.
“Chicago” continues 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays until July 30. Seating on the hill is free and reserved paid seating is available in front of the stage. 434-0776
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record
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