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Center Stage: ‘Chicago’ at Broadway Palm is ‘razzle, dazzle production’

January 17, 2018
By Marsha Wagner , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Legs, thighs, a razzle dazzle cast, and all that jazz makes Broadway Palm's 187th production of "Chicago" a sure-fire hit.

When the original show opened on Broadway in 1975, it didn't get brilliant reviews by the theater critics, but it went on to sell out to S.R.O. houses for quite a while - the movie didn't do too badly, either. This show is as bold, cynical and stylish as it can be, in other words a musical "out to kill ya."

The original show also starred two of the very best Broadway dancers around, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Not only that, the choreographer was none other than Bob Fosse himself, hitting it out of the park once again with his own brand of brilliance.

Broadway Palm's production had big shoes to fill, but "fill 'em" they did, thanks to a fantastic cast and my absolute favorite choreographer, Amy Marie McCleary, who is also starring in Rivera's role of Velma Kelly. This is the first time I've seen McCleary in a featured role of this caliber. Let me tell you, she not only awed us with her talent, she walked away with the show - big time! Choreographically speaking, she didn't so much mimic Fosse as pay tribute with her version of the "Fosse style." This woman is a major talent in whatever she tackles and Broadway Palm and its audiences are fortunate to have this gal in residence.

If I were to describe this show, I would have to agree with Fosse's subtitle "a musical vaudeville," for that is exactly what it is. "Chicago" is a dazzling demonstration of the "craft of musical theater." A virtuosity of Broadway musical technique, with its fantastic stage pictures and integrity of style in movement, design and music; all employed to tell this gritty story, and designed to dazzle and thrill.

I'll have to admit I'm in total agreement with critics though that the storyline is less than thrilling. Its style of mounting takes "Chicago" to new heights, making it "an expressionistic, acid distortion of prohibition Chicago; a kind of Germanic '30s style that has little if any connection with the show's subject matter." (Fosse had just finished the movie "Cabaret" and the critics brought that up in almost every review). But don't be fooled by the "Cabaret" comment, this show as done by Broadway Palm's deft Director M. Seth Reines with the brilliant choreography of McCleary put this version of "Chicago" in a class all by itself, and that is "one hell ova, swell ova, razzle, dazzle production."

The ambience of "Chicago" was, is and will always be, sexy, decadent and somewhat superfluous throughout, filled with characters from the sleazy side of town and folks not always easy to like, except for Roxie's patsy of a husband Amos, impressively played by Brian Kalinowski. Kalinowski totally won the audience's heart with his self- disparaging version of "Mr. Cellophane."

The enjoyment of the show also rests heavily on the two stars of the production, Roxy Hart played by Sarah Mae Banning and Velma Kelly. Banning made an auspicious Broadway Palm debut. She can certainly sing and act, while holding her own in the dance department. Playing a show biz, gem of a role isn't exactly easy, but Banning was more than up to it.

Additional performers in feature roles also created memorable characters and each had the chops to stand out, taking the stage in their big moment to shine and wow the audience:

- Illy Kirven as Matron Mama Morton

- Daniel A. Lopez as Billy Flynn

- Stephen Vaught (yup, you read it right - a guy in drag) as Mary Sunshine

Like the principles, the ensemble cast were not only excellent, they were worthy of the title "Broadway Dancing Gypsy." Let me tell you, that is high praise indeed - take it from a "Broadway gypsy" who knows.

Bottom line, this is a dazzling recreation of the craft of musical theater at its very best, performed by a first-rate cast. I feel I must make you aware of one thing, this show is not for the "faint of heart." It is raunchy, gritty and risqu, but I loved it and would say "go for it."

Since the show folds on Feb.10, start the ball rolling by phoning the box office at 239-278-4422. Remember when you phone, tell 'em Marsha sent you.

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre is at 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers.



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