Community Theatre Review: …And All That Jazz
This past Friday, I saw The Players Club of Swarthmore’s latest musical, Chicago, directed by Anne Marie Scalies. Disclaimer: I do not like Chicago. I have tried, 3 times to be exact, to like this show. It’s just not for me. I love the music, I love Fosse, I just can’t get into the book of the show. But, that’s another discussion altogether. I have heard wonderful things about The Players Club but this is the first show that I’ve actually seen there so I was pretty excited. No matter how I felt about the show itself, I assumed that the production value would be high and I was right. Overall, the production was polished, fast moving, and chock full of talented triple threats.
Chicago is set in, you guessed it, Chicago, Illinois and revolves around two murderesses, Velma Kelly, a well known nightclub sensation, and Roxie Hart, a wannabe. Velma is in jail for killing her cheating husband and sister while her slick Chicago lawyer, Billy Flynn, uses her fame and the media to get her off. However, when Roxie Hart ends up in jail for the murder of her lover, Flynn takes her case too and a media circus ensues putting Roxie on the front page of the newspaper and turning Velma into yesterday’s story. A battle for fame, fortune, and their lives erupts between the two murderesses.
The show was well cast with a gaggle of triple threats (or at least it seemed that way!). The music sounded great- the pit was well rehearsed, the individual vocals were absolutely wonderful, and the ensemble vocals were incredibly strong due to the background vocalists sitting in with the pit. That was a great choice on the part of director, Anne Marie Scalies. There is so much dancing in this show that I always feel that it takes away from the vocal quality of the ensemble numbers, but not so in this production. There were two choreographers for the show, Nate Golden and Katie Sienkiewicz, and while all of the choreography is very good, I feel that you could definitely see the difference in their styles throughout. Typically, Chicago incorporates a lot of Fosse in the choreo, especially the opening and signature number All That Jazz, but you don’t see quite as much of it in this production. There were some numbers I particularly liked such as “We Both Reached For The Gun” and “I Can’t Do It Alone”. The ensemble as a whole was tight, but there are a few standouts that I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention. Matron “Mama” Morton, played by Kat Lemon, was the show stealer for me. Every time she walked on stage and opened her mouth, she commanded the stage and her performance was authentic, never forced. Not to mention, her voice is out of this world. I also thoroughly enjoyed Gabriella Bressi’s performance as Velma Kelly. She is a true triple threat and you could tell she was giving everything she had while on stage. Mark Thompson played Billy Flynn with a perfect mix of sleazy enough to know he was not a good guy and smooth enough to like him just a little bit. His comedic timing was good, too.
The costuming, by Tim Bruno, was my favorite design element of the show.
Each of the dancer’s costume was different, interesting, and flattered them no matter what their body type, which I find to be an accomplishment since all black and skin tight doesn’t always leave many options. Velma’s lace sleeve dress was gorgeous and Roxie’s (Liz Iannacci) second dress (I was not a huge fan of her opening costume) fit her like a glove and had a great cut at the bottom. The set and scenic design, by Derek Jay Ross and David Smith, was well done and I particularly like the movable stairs to create new settings and the columns that framed the stage. This show doesn’t allow for much scene change time and I felt they used their space creatively to keep the scenes moving quickly. I felt that the lighting design, by Chris Barbier, brought the set together well in addition to the use of the haze.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I don’t particularly like this show. That being said, this is the best production of Chicago that I’ve seen (and that includes the national touring company’s starring a certain sleazy talk show host) and I would absolutely recommend that you go see it. It’s well directed and performed, and you can tell that a lot of love, sweat, and maybe even some tears went into staging it. The Players Club of Swarthmore’s shows have a great reputation for a reason and Chicago is no different. So, what are you waiting for? Go buy your tickets!
Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Rd, Swarthmore PA
Instagram and Twitter: @pcs_theater
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