Monday, April 16, 2012

Theatre Review: Chicago at TITG

Theatre in the Grove's Production of 'Chicago' has heat

Review by Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Jody Coffman as Velma Kelly
If you’re going to do a brassy show, you’ve got to come on strong – and that’s exactly what Theatre in the Grove is doing with their jazzy rendition of “Chicago” that runs for the next two weeks.

From the opening notes, belter Jody Coffman (as Velma Kelly), the ensemble, and the lively 20’s style orchestra lets you know who’s in charge. Velma’s “Mermanesque” rendition of “All That Jazz” sets the stage for a rapid-paced series of vaudevillian numbers that define, with comic-book clarity, the sordid stories of a fictional group of Chicago’s most famous murderesses. Frequent narrative interjections ensure that, despite minimal dialogue and sets, the audience is told exactly what is going on. This is a singing and dancing show, and Director Ken Centers, along with Vocal Director Justin Canfield and Choreographer Ember Eastman take full advantage of their cast’s abilities.

Jenny Hauser as Roxie Hart
The show’s central focus is on two murderesses awaiting trial, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Jenny Hauser). Both leads more than carry the weight of their parts in singing, dancing, acting, and comic timing. Hauser successfully captures Roxie’s enigmatic personality – superficially innocent, but with a stunning inherent amorality. Coffman is equally skilled at portraying Velma’s hard-as-nails exterior while expressing her fundamental vulnerability.

Other standouts include James W. Grimes’ turn as sleazebag lawyer Billy Flynn and Brandon B. Weaver’s heart-breaking performance as Roxie’s helpless schlemiel of a husband, Amos Hart. At times, Grimes seems to channel Al Jolson with his broad gestures and robust, rolling vocals. Weaver’s big number, “Mr. Cellophane,” captures Emmett Kelly more than Bert Williams, but still effectively expresses the pathos of the role.

Director Ken Centers
Supporting cast members Pruella Centers (Matron Mama Morton) and Brittney Spady (Mary Sunshine) provide an interesting and entertaining counterpoint to the sultry murderesses with whom they interact.

The entire show runs smoothly – the sound is crisp and clear, the orchestra does not overpower the vocalists, and the lighting does a great job of setting the locale and enhancing the mood for each scene. Costumes deserve special recognition, for they are evocative of the 20’s, but are cleverly designed to express the ambiguity of the individual performers’ personalities.

If the enthusiasm of the nearly full-house opening night crowd is an accurate gauge, “Chicago” is being embraced by its community – as well it should be!

Chicago is running at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove April 20-21 and 27-28 at 8:00 p.m.; April 22 and 29 at 2:00 p.m.

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