THEATER REVIEW (WSAU) The singing can be left to itself... almost. The song’s aren’t all that difficult. But the dancing in Chicago must be top-shelf. Mosinee Community Theater knows this. They brought in Emily Luedtke to work with their company, and she has her cast tuned-up for a high-stepping performance that launches during the opening 'All That Jazz' number and stays airborne throughout the evening. This is a very rare community-theater show where the big production company numbers, where accomplished performers and less-experienced newcomers all are on the stage together, are the best and most-polished parts. I was happily razzle-dazzled for the night.
The bar is set high for Chicago because of the 2002 academy-award winning movie, which kept faith with the look and feel of the Broadway-revival production. When done well, live theatrical dancing can be spectacular. Renee Zellweger and Catherina Zeta-Jones can’t seduce us on the silver screen. We know in the back of our minds they had many takes to get the choreography to look the way it does. Live is different and better… where months of practice goes into one chance to make it come out right. Even if you loved the Oscar-winning movie, the play holds its own little gems. Three songs were cut from the film to shorten running time. “Class”, a vulgar, over-the-top number that Velma Kelly shares with Matron Mama Morton brings belly-laughs. “Me And My Baby,” which was reduced to background music for the motion-picture soundtrack, is a good starting point for act two after Velma welcomes is back from intermission.
If you don’t know the story-line, Chicago is the answer to why we know OJ Simpson as a convict instead of a football player and Lindsey Lohan as an addict instead of an actress. The Windy City during prohibition had never executed a female murderer, and women who committed capital crimes became celebrities – ready to cash-in on their notoriety after their acquittals. Velma is an actress who murdered her sister and husband after catching them in bed. Her star is ready to take off if she can beat the rap. Roxie Hart has less talent, but better PR. She upstages Velma in the newspapers for killing her lover who’d promised her an audition. It’s a story that’s become less absurd as we become more cynical.
Chicago is as much a celebration of dance as it is an indictment of our celebrity-criminal culture. The original 1975 Broadway production was conceived as a vaudeville show, with an emcee narrating the story for the audience as the various cast members came out and played their scenes. It was awkward. Chicago was reconstructed in its current minimal-set dance production in 1996. This re-thinking, emphasizing Bob Fosse’s choreography, is superior. The revival still runs today on Broadway, with another company touring the country.
Lisa Haessly (Velma) and Tana De Lonay (Roxie) are both worthy co-stars who are both good on their feet. De Lonay is also a very good singer, and is both comfortable and aluring in her solo numbers. Zack Wilde, who has distinguished himself in several community theater productions this year, was a good choice to play attorney Billy Flynn.
This production was polished by very good performances in smaller parts. Marshall De Lonay's tap dancing is excellent. Hungarian inmate Chloe Gorman is a lythe dancer. She's also part of the quintet of female dancers for the 'Cell Block Tango' - all of which were strong in their solo dances and their ensemble work. Roxie Hart was very well framed in her big production number by her 12 male dancers. Carla Dul led one of the best musical-theater orchestras I've heard all season. A salute to all these company members who put many, many hours into their performances.
Getting the local rights to Chicago is a coup for Mosinee Community Theater. There are other theater groups, most notably Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater in Stevens Point, who wanted to put on this show. They will be among those applauding this very good production.
Mosinee Community Theater's production of Chicago has performances at 7pm on Friday and Saturday and at 2pm Sunday.
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