Other Voices Theatre is currently staging a dazzling and dark production of Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago,” now playing through August 12th in Frederick, Maryland. And, if every visit to the theatre is like a vacation, this visit takes us on a holiday to 1920’s ”Chicago,” with excitement, decadence, and – of course – “all that jazz.”
Director Susan Thornton brings out the dark humor of the story about wanna-be star, turned murderer Roxie Hart (Michelle Boizelle) and the talented vixen Velma Kelly (Alyssa Little) who seems to have more than just killer looks. Choreographer Donna Grim sets the stage on fire with sensual movements, perfectly executed by the talented ensemble of performers.
The show portrays the 1920’s and mid-twentieth century America with great verisimilitude, as a pack of the then-popular Lucky Strike cigarettes is tossed into a prison cell and the NBC chimes ring before a radio broadcast heard on a cathedral-style radio. The backdrop shows the six women potentially on death row for murder in the bottom row of cells. Downstage right, each number is introduced by a master of ceremonies as he or she speaks into a classic microphone.
…dazzling and dark…
Michelle Boizelle is a dynamic Roxie, talented in song and dance and especially in expressions of joy, exasperation, and disgust. Alyssa Little is equally good in a vivid performance as blond Roxie’s brunette counterpart, the already famous – no, infamous – Velma Kelly.
So many performers in the Other Voices Theatre’s production steal the show that it’s almost criminal. Steve Cairns is charming, cheeky, and amoral as the sharp lawyer Billy Flynn. Lee Hebb as “Mr. Cellophane,” Roxie’s naïve husband Amos, gives an uncharismatic character remarkable charisma, evincing sympathy and laughs from the audience. La Tasha Do’zia-Earley takes command of the stage (and jailhouse) as Mama Morton with her bold rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama” and in “Class,” her duet with Velma. J. Douglas as reporter Mary Sunshine is a performance that I won’t soon forget!
The chorus of women prisoners, who sometimes take on different roles (scribbling on note pads among reporters, for example), are fine dancers and add greatly to the overall effect with their vocal talents. The “Cellblock Tango” especially brings these qualities to the fore, allowing us an artistic look into the depths of passion and living life on the edge, while eliciting sympathy for women who have taken life inhumanely but are, on some level, in touch with their own humanity.
Led by music director Zane Oberholzer, the vivacious live band is behind bars in the upper level of cells. The musicians beautifully convey the 1920’s jazz sound essential to the show, and fortunately a good sound mix is provided, despite the performers not wearing body microphones. Elvis Presley’s 1957 film “Jailhouse Rock” is known in Europe as “Rhythm behind Bars.” The description is even more appropriate to describe the music and staging here. A nice touch for this production is a mural of six women in silhouette behind bars which is seen as the audience enters the theatre.
The cynical ending provides food for thought — “thank you for letting us live the American dream!” the two women exclaim in essence. Is this dream just celebrity? Or more darkly, is it triumphing over justice with a good lawyer, panache, and celebrity?
Running Time: Two hours and 18 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Mature themes.
“Chicago” plays at Other Voices Theatre, 244B South Jefferson Street, Frederick MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-662-3722, or go online.