With tingly skin and bated breath, ArtsCentric’s ‘Chicago’ will have your attention in a vice-grip. As the first all African-American cast of one of the longest-running Broadway musicals, this company gives you EVERYTHING, the full “razzle-dazzle” of performance, and delivers one high-octane show you will not forget.
Set in the 1920s, “Chicago” starts off with a bang, literally, as chorus dancer and housewife Roxie Hart (Ashley Johnson-Moore), murders her secret lover for promises unkept. As she’s sent to prison, she encounters her cellmate, vaudeville sensation and double-murderess Velma Kelly (Jessica Bennett), who’s not too thrilled with the threat of this young hottie stealing her spotlight. As Roxie and Velma’s rivalry takes root, Roxie desperately seeks to evade conviction by hiring defense lawyer, Billy Flynn (CJ Faulk), who has never lost a case. With Flynn’s crafty–ahem–guidance and some trickery of her own, Roxie hoodwinks the public and the bloodthirsty media into a whole melodrama of deception to dodge pending judgment.
…[T]his company gives you EVERYTHING, the full “razzle-dazzle” of performance, and delivers one high-octane show you will not forget.
Director Kevin McAllister has created a supercharged production that is simply sensational! Styled as a 1920s jazz club, his staging within The Motor House utilizes the full depth, breadth, and height of the performance space to frame a vibrant, pictorial masterpiece. Shalyce Hemby’s lusciously provocative jazz choreography truly sets the mood from the opener “All That Jazz” and leaves you hooked from number to number. The skill and precision of the company’s ensemble of dancers really sell Hemby’s choreography with full physical commitment and command of technique, and the potent sass and sexiness they exude is the cherry on top! The main ingredient of the show is music, of course, and the ArtsCentric Band under the direction of Cedric Lyles effortlessly flavors the Broadway score with an infusion of sultry soul and a little gutsy gospel.
The vocal prowess of this talented cast will not disappoint. Ashley Johnson-Moore and Jessica Bennett, individually, were two explosions of absolute vocal perfection; however, I felt that the chemistry between the two leading ladies could be strengthened more. Supporting cast members CJ Faulk, Sylvern Jr., and Pamela Ward also wield excellent vocal command as Billy Flynn, Amos, and Mama, respectively. For me, BJ Daniels as Mary Sunshine was truly the show-stopper. Daniels will arrest you with a falsetto so hypnotic, you may just end up in a trance.
A few minor technical adjustments could make this show even more stellar. For example, lowering the sound level of the keyboard, particularly during the introductions of the musical numbers, would better support the soloists, who were overpowered by the keyboard at times while singing at full volume. Adjusting the timing of a few spotlight cues would also be a plus, as some actors were left to speak one-liners in the dark.
I could go on about how incredible this production is, but words can’t fully justify. Do yourself a favor: Go see ArtsCentric’s “Chicago!”
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes.
‘Chicago’ runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until August 6, 2017, at The Motor House in Baltimore, MD. For tickets and information, click here.