Every time I attend a show at The Larry Keeton Theatre, I’m awe-struck at the quality of their productions. Chicago, which opened September 15 and runs through Saturday, October 1 is no exception. With director, Kate Adam-Johnson, who also serves as choreographer, with moves based on Bob Fosse’s original choreography, alongside musical director, Ginger Newman, I have to say I pretty much knew going in, it was gonna be a great show These talented ladies and their incredible cast and crew didn’t disappoint.
In case you’ve been in lock-up for the past three decades, Chicago is the Tony-winning musical by the incredible team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, with choreography and book co-written by the aforementioned Fosse, that debuted on Broadway back in 1975. The musical itself was based on the 1926 satirical play by one-time Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who, during her time at the Trib covered two high-profile accused female murderers’ sensational trials. In real life, said suspected murderesses were Belva Gaertner, a twice-dovorced cabaret singer accused of killing her lover and Beulah Sheriff Annan a beautiful laundromat bookkeeper, who also reached for the gun. For the musical version, Belva is seen in the characterVelma Kelly, while Beulah is fictionalized as Roxie Hart.
In 2002, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger brought the ladies to life in a big-screen version with Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Christine Baranski rounding out the star-studded cast.
For The Keeton Theatre‘s staging, Stacie Riggs steps into the spicy role of Velma, with Tonya Pewitt playing the seemingly sweet Roxie. Riggs, a newcomer to The Larry Keeton Theatre, is perfect as a playful seductress with a yearning for fame. Pewitt, previously seen in several Keeton productions, most notably last year’s fabulous White Christmas, proves she can play innocent, or maybe guilty, with a spotlight-nabbing smile in her turn asRoxie.
The entire cast proves they’ve got the moves and the voices to steal the audience’s attention and admiration right from the start, as they perform the electrifying opening number, All That Jazz, lead by Riggs. Next it’s Pewitt‘s time to shine with Funny Honey. Next, the two leading ladies are joined by female castmates Stephanie Brooks, Christina Candilora, Laura Cockarill, McKenna Trammell, Caitlyn Williams, Tara Carney, Hannah McGinley and Abigayle Horrell for Cell Block Tango. As in the original stage production and subsequent movie, with the set soaked in red light, each of the Merry Murderesses of the Cook County Jail shares her story of how she ended up there. It’s during this number that the use of light and color become characters themselves. Backlit by a bright row of floodlights that brings to mind the blinding light often featured in film noir police interrogation room scenes, as each of the girls approaches the crucial moment in her story where her lover was killed, she reveals a red handkerchief, as a symbol for the blood on their hands. Red, all but for one, Horrell, as The Hunyak, instead, reveals a white handkerchief as she utters the words, ‘not guilty’.
Horrell‘s portrayal ofThe Hunyak may be innocent of the crime, but she’s definitely guilty of scene-stealing. While her fellow-scene-stealer McGinley is seen boozing and hamming it up as Annie, the cell block drunk, Horrell, to the most perceptive audience member is seen reading her bible and praying with her rosary. To the credit of both choreographer/director Adams-Johnson and Horrell, herself, her execution ballet is, um, very well executed.
On the subject of scene stealers, The Larry Keeton Theatre‘s production of Chicago is full of them. Veteran actor Terry McLemore may initially seem a tad older than the young girls his Billy Flynn is defending, but he certainly pulls all the right stings during the lyrically frantic We Both Reached For The Gun. McLemore‘s two other big numbers, All I Care About and Razzle Dazzle again showcase his command of the stage, his craft and yes, the audience.
Another great character, Miss Marry Sunshine, played to full camp-drag perfection by Bobby Milford, does justice to the character’s name by bringing smiles to the audience every time he/she steps onstage.
Then there’s Matron Mama Morton, played by one of my favorite Nashville actresses, Jamie London. London is never better than when she’s playing a bigger-than-life character like Mama Morton. Her bawdy rendition of When Your Good to Mama and her ironic duet with Riggs on Class are two more of the show’s seemingly never-ending great numbers.
Another great number again features Pewitt as Roxie sings her signature song, Roxie. Who needs your name written in the lights of a blinking marquee when you’ve got hot male dancers lifting and carrying you across the stage?
To that end, the male cast members are not only equally easy on the eyes as the lovely ladies of the cell block, but just as entertaining, most notably the anything but invisible Joshua Waldrep asRoxie‘s man-behind-the-murderess, Amos. His struggle to get noticed, even by the spotlight during Mr. Cellophane is spot-on. Macon Kimbrough, Brandon Johnson, Thomas Harton and Matt Stewart are all worth committing a crime for. A special mention goes to Tony Nappo, who is seen as the Master or Ceremonies throughout the show, as he provides humorous introductions to the numbers. Another brilliant bit features Tony as various members of the jury during the show’s crucial courtroom scene…too funny.
Gotta love a tried-and-true musical that provides great musical numbers from beginning to end. From The Overture and All That Jazz to Roxie and Velma duetting on Nowadays and the entire cast performing the Hot Honey Rag, The Larry Keeeton Theatre‘s Chicago lives up to the musical theatre-favorite’s headline-grabbing reputation.
Oh, and did I mention The Larry Keeton Theatre is a dinner theatre? That’s right, no bread and water for patrons of Matron Mama Morton‘s lively and lovely inmates. Dinner is served at 6pm with the show beginning immediately following at 7pm. Thursday night’s show is sold out, with limited tickets remaining for Chicago‘s final performances Friday and Saturday, September 30 and October 1. CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.
Up next at The Larry Keeton Theatre, The All Night Strut! opening November 3 and running through November 19. For more information on that show, or to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE.
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