Review of Chicago

Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, Waynesville’s community theatre, has mounted an impressive undertaking with its current production of “Chicago.” Combing the hills for the voices and talent to pull off this well-known musical (thanks to the feature film version a few years back) the executive director of HART and show director Steve Lloyd squeezes adept performances out of a committed and unique group of players.

Chicago is the tale of Roxy Hart, who shoots her lover when he tries to leave her, and finds herself in jail with the grand opportunity to become famous as a barely recognizable version of herself, the innocent convent raised girl corrupted by jazz and the big city into a lady killer. This city of Chicago itself is characterized by a press corps, hungry for the most sensational murder of the moment, with a backdrop of smoky jazz clubs and vaudeville dancing. 

The show is largely about spin, entertaining the audience with the same sensationalism it simultaneously critiques. Heavy with song and dance, the play moves without pause from number to number, tracking Roxy’s journey through jail and court, which she considers her one shot at true stardom.

This is an ambitious show for community theatre, and unlike other musicals that can get away with watered- down dance numbers adjusted for the less trained, the Bob Fosse-inspired dance is a pivotal part of the identity of “Chicago.”

The largely young chorus of this production does well with the movement, pulling out the energy and sharp unity to do choreographer Cord Scott’s work justice. However, in the first number “All That Jazz,” the dancers were attempting an attitude of casual and languid seductiveness, which had the unfortunate result of appearing sluggish. Luckily the chorus became stronger both in movement and song as the show went on, proving that they are capable of the show’s demands and can likely pull the first number out of lethargy with a few simple adjustments.

Candice Dickinson was the stand-out as Roxy, a triple-threat with a strong, evocative singing voice matched by her capable dancing and note-perfect characterization. Other notable performances were Todd Schuck’s heartbreakingly endearing rendition of Amos, Roxy’s beleaguered husband, and Reshe` Berry as Mama Morton, who nearly blew the roof off the James Auditorium with her incredible voice. 

Julie Kinter’s Velma Kelly showcased some of the best acting of the evening, and though her dancing skills were not up to the demands of the role (which is the most dance-intensive of the show) Kinter did an excellent job pushing herself as far as she could with her self-admitted lack of experience. Jeff Bachar’s Billy Flynn was stronger in Act II, and his performance overall could be strengthened by making a larger commitment to inhabiting the sleaze factor required for his character.

The orchestra was particularly excellent and consistent. However, the use of body microphones for some of the leads created amplification problems that the orchestra could not overcome. As the orchestra would play louder for a lead singing with a body microphone, when the chorus (which was only supported with area microphones) joined in, the orchestra would drown them out. The real matter is the use of body microphones in a 255-seat theatre in the first place. Musical theatre is largely characterized by the performer’s ability to “belt,” particularly in smaller venues, and this art seems to be being lost, even in community theatres. The problem was compounded here by only certain leads using body microphones — Berry’s huge voice was almost too much for the area microphones, while Kinter and Dickinson never needed to project with their body microphones. Overall, the microphone situation hindered the evenness of the production.

Lloyd does double duty as both director and designer, and the set and lighting were perfect for the production, which runs for another two weekends in Waynesville. Chicago has all that musical theatre requires for a good time: sassy sexiness, big dance numbers, and a plot that engages and remains relevant 35 years after its debut.

Chicago. Music by John Kander • Lyrics by Fred Ebb • Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Directed by Steven Lloyd • Music Direction by Chuck Taft • Choreography by Cord Scott
Weekends, through August 1, $22 for Adults, $20 for Seniors, $10 for Students, For reservations call 828-456-6322, or go to www.sellingticket.com/HART.

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3 thoughts on “Review of Chicago

  1. This is very minor, but the character’s name is spelled Roxie in the book (but perhaps not in this production’s playbill).

  2. Lucia Del Vecchio

    Joseph, that’s what I thought, but the program lists it as Roxy, so I changed my review to follow that, not having the book available.

  3. ‘Chicago’ is an ambitious show for any theatre venue, not just community theatre. People -particular reviewers – need to remember that many talented actors, some with equity cards, are indeed involved in many community shows in this area. Community theatre doesn’t automatically equal bad theatre anymore than an equity card makes someone automatically talented.

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