Stage Left seems to have out done itself with its version of CHICAGO at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton tonight, and that’s putting it mildly. Director Bryan Pitt stripped the play to its essence and on that smallish stage gave us an amazing theatre experience. I liked that. I liked that a lot! He gave the audience the purest musical theatre experience imaginable with his artistry; and with the help of a tremendously talented company.
One of the things I love about theatre is its ability to transform itself–even with the same play. How else can we see the same show over and over and have a different experience? I’ve seen another version of CHICAGO recently that I liked very much, and it was very different from this show. I said it was “sexy, stylish and smart.” That it was, and a great show, too. It was glitzy and sexy–adjectives that are often used to describe CHICAGO. The glitz manifested itself in the set and costumes and it was very impressive.
Stage Left’s CHICAGO is also very impressive but a contrast of styles. This one put the “glitzy” color into the lights (Chris Miller), and raw emotion into the sound (John Bozzuffi), and the actors went more for sensual and the sexy with Dianne Certo’s always impressive choreography. Chris Melohn’s costumes worked as intended to keep the focus where it belonged–on the actors, on the sexy or sensual, or on the goofy, or the slick characters in the play. While the other CHICAGO used a colorful set and costumes for effect, this one used a minimal background with stairs leading to the second level where the orchestra played and scantily-clad-in-black, pleasantly revealing costumes were lit by a multitude of colored lights. The company maximized the stage for the musical and dance numbers, and concentrated on the quality sound product–the music flawlessly produced by Musical Director Collin Maier, orchestra and cast. In the achievement of using the theatre art to the fullest, I would have to say Pitt’s production made the highest grade.
While there are serious plays that try to be realistic and the addition of realistic sets and costumes enhances that effect, here in the CHICAGO world we are not to forget it is theatre. Actors sat in chairs off stage left and right in plain sight of the audience; they stayed in character, leaving when they needed to, brought in a chair or entered the scene as a different character. The audience has to do its part to suspend disbelief and go where the play’s actors take you. We are constantly aware this is a play. The actors know it and we know it. We share that. We even share a laugh when the action causes an actor to crack an uncharacteristic smile. We don’t mind; we know we couldn’t hold back, so why should she?
Even as an experienced actor and director, I am in awe of these talented individuals, who sang with such overwhelming power and beauty–each song worthy to stand alone. Each performance the same way. John Jackowski, I know from other shows, and he never fails to please with his performance. He is totally Flynn! Christina Maslin as “Velma” and Samantha Morrone as “Roxie” take your breath away–again each number as if it is the only one they have to do–each unique, beautiful in their own ways, fully grasping the power of the music and movement to make the most of their individual characters. Ted Wioncek, III’s “Amos,” was a constant hoot, as was Benita Simpson’s “Matron ‘Mama’ Morton” as she put CHICAGO’s world of corruption into perspective with a snickering motherly love. C. Newcomer’s “Mary Sunshine” very nearly stole the show especially when she sang with that operatic voice of hers. Ed Santiago made the most of his time as “Fred Casely,” cracking up cast and audience alike, with his finely honed dialect, expressions and gestures. His bit with Samantha brought tears of joy to many. The rest of the ladies and gentlemen on stage were the background, the action, the music and sound, images that stick in our minds. They framed the action so totally. They were all amazing.
I feel a little like Colonel Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together!” This is one plan that obviously came together well. If I had any disappointment, it is the disappointment that the theatre wasn’t filled. It’s a shame when art is brought to us in such rare form that an audience leaves muttering they’ll come see the result again and again. I actually heard some people say that. Either they’re crazy for theatre or they really enjoyed this show. I know I did.
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
September 30th at 8 p.m.
October 1st, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th & 15th at 8 p.m.
October 9th at 3 p.m.
Stage Left Productions
at The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton NJ 08037