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Stage West Community Playhouse's 'Chicago' hits it out of the park

Jessica Virginia as Velma Kelly, left, and Mogan Reid as Mama Morton rehearse for Stage West Community Playhouse’s production of the musical Chicago, which runs until Nov. 20.

Courtesy of Carol Ballard

Jessica Virginia as Velma Kelly, left, and Mogan Reid as Mama Morton rehearse for Stage West Community Playhouse’s production of the musical Chicago, which runs until Nov. 20.

Stage West Community Playhouse's production of the musical Chicago raises the question: "Can a team bat 1.100?" Or, in Spinal Tap parlance, "Can you turn the speakers up to 11?"

That seems to be what's going on at Stage West, as the theater turned its third show of the season into another blow-out, following great renditions of the comedy Lend Me a Tenor and the dramedy Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.

The theater's treatment of Chicago? Awesome. Just awesome, from top to bottom (except for a few lighting blips), thanks to great casting and direction by Barbara Everest and coaching by musical director Bobbi Moger and choreographers Joyce Lang and Jodi Lang.

You'd be hard put to say you've seen dancing anywhere that could top that in Stage West's Chicago. The 18 dancers do the angular Bob Fosse-inspired moves — including the behind-the-back waves and stop-second poses — as sharp, slick and eye-popping as any troupe of pros you could hope for. Those grueling days of practice show in every step.

And no matter how many times you see Chicago, live or on film, you'll never see a Velma Kelly or Roxie Hart any more adorable and talented as Jessica Virginia and Victoria Primosch. These two young women had proven themselves fine actors in earlier roles, but who could guess they can both knock it out of the park as singing dancers? Wow.

Ms. Virginia's Velma and company set a high standard with a confident, boffo All That Jazz to open the show and simply soar from then on. Miss Primosch's Roxie keeps the bar high with a slightly nasal Funny Honey, as she makes love to the top of a piano and introduces us to her hubby Amos, a deliciously nebbishy Todd Guenther, whose timing and physical moves are priceless and Mister Cellophane a treat.

Todd Everest's starkly black, white and red sets and lights showcase Madeline Child and crew's costumes, starting with Cell Block Tango, as man-killers Liz (Wahnita DeFrancesco), Annie (Marisa Wasp), June (Jeanine Martin), Hunyak (Amada Bojzec), Mona (Leslee Starz) and Velma agree "he had it coming" and continuing through the whole show.

Then the audience was treated to the long-awaited moment when former Broadway performer and recording artist Morgan Reid (she was Martha Velez on the Great White Way, now a Spring Hill snowbird) made her Stage West singing debut (she's already won a HAMI for acting). She lives up to her impressive resume, playing the tough-talking Matron "Mama" Morton, swirling around the stage in When You're Good to Mama, telling the tale of Chicago After Midnight and earning laughs in the off-color Class.

Ryan Bintz as the insincere, smarmy lawyer Billy Flynn hits every note just right, oozing charm in All I Care About as he cavorts through the chorus's big pink feather fans and dazzling one and all in Razzle Dazzle.

As the Master of Ceremonies who introduces each outrages episode of the story, Bill Myers' smooth voice and ironic delivery remind the audience that this wild tale of greed, corruption and manipulation of the public is as old as humanity and as new as today.

If there seems to be dips in the show's energy, blame it on writers Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, whose script bogs down in places as the plot works itself out. That makes Act Two seem less exciting than Act One, but even so, there's plenty of sparkle and shine to the very end, making the two hour, 45 minute show seem to fly.

Ms. Moger's six-piece orchestra fills the room and adds pizazz, especially Mike Tranchida's wah-wah trumpet. Dancers Emile Andrade, Lynn Colyer, Jodi Lang, Dani Lips, Heather Olenjniczak, Jeff Germann, Mitch Gonzalez, Toni Berlinger and Dan Brijbag complete the engine that makes the show go-go-go. And A. Cromartie's warbling Mary Sunshine, the overly-optimistic newspaper reporter, is a hoot.

Chicago is a really tough show to do right by, with its complicated dancing, split-second timing and cynical, ironic, adult tone, but Stage West does it right, and then some.

I didn't spot an empty seat at Thursday's opening, and the box office says sales for the rest of the shows have been brisk. As with Six Dance Lessons, once word gets out that this show is one for the books, tickets may be hard to come by, if not impossible to get.

.if you go

Catch a treat

Chicago, a musical in two acts, at Stage West Community Playhouse at 8 p.m. today and Nov. 18 and 19; and 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 20. The theater is at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Tickets are $15, reserved seating. Box office is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Nov. 19 and an hour before each show. Call (352) 683-5113. (Limited availability.)

Stage West Community Playhouse's 'Chicago' hits it out of the park 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 7:00pm]
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