Chicago at CenterStage Review

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From the moment you glimpse the stage, you can’t decide whether it is a nightclub or a prison.  John Leffert’s versatile and unique design sets the stage for that rare marriage of fun and desperation in CenterStage’s production of Chicago, presented by Hilliard Lyons.  For those of you not familiar with the show (or haven’t seen the movie), Chicago is based on real events that transpired in (you guessed it) prohibition-era Chicago.  The show begins and ends with society’s fascination with crime, and how our media turns criminals into celebrities.  The story and themes are still relevant and modern, think OJ, Casey Anthony, etc., but performed with a healthy dose of cynicism and a wink to the audience.

Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are competing for their lawyer’s attention and the public’s affection, in that order, after both are accused of murder.  Who wins depends on b2ap3_thumbnail_10671343_10152228614651784_2764928550917843549_n.jpgwho is desperate enough to stoop lower than the other.  The show, with music and lyrics by Kander & Ebb, originally debuted on Broadway in the 1970s, and was revived, in a production still running on Broadway, in 1996.  CenterStage’s production stays true to the revival’s concert-style staging and vaudeville-inspired numbers.  This production is fast-paced and fun, which is no surprise under the direction of John Leffert’s deft hand.  The real star of the show is the Fosse-inspired choreography, by Zach Boone.  The characters writhe and pop, kick and turn, in ways that manage to be both true to the jazz-era of the show, yet modern enough to thrill current audiences. The lighting design by Theresa Bagan was also effective with the use of flattering red lights when the show was glamorizing murder, but harsh white lights to expose the characters’ ugly desperation.

All of the actors sound amazing, as does the orchestra, under Jim Dersch’s music direction and Bernie Abner’s sound direction.  And yet, each actor still gets their own moment to shine. Whitney Boyles Trowbridge as Velma sets the tone of the show with her impressive belting of the iconic opening number “All That Jazz,” and her voice shines throughout. Her delivery of the comic punchlines brought many laughs to the opening night audience. Kate E. Reedy’s expert dancing throughout the show, but especially during “Me and My Baby” (and with a special shout-out to Paul McElroy’s high kicks and mesh shirt), was a highlight of her performance of Roxie, as was her riff at the end of “Funny Honey.” The ladies' fickle relationship with each other was realistic, and their harmonies were on-point in "My Own Best Friend." Pete Lay is oily and slick as Billy Flynn, and Tamika Tyan McDonald (Mama Morton) steals the show whenever she is on stage. The ensemble is just as tight and looks fantastic in Butch Sager’s sexy costumes. “They Both Reached for the Gun” was my favorite number of the night, with the perfect interplay of choreography, characterization, and humor.

CenterStage’s production of Chicago runs through September 20.   Shows are selling out fast so you can buy tickets online,, or by calling 502-238-2709.  The production contains profanity and sexual situations, and don’t forget the aforementioned writhing and popping, so this is not recommended for young children.  But, it is the perfect show for a date night where you can not only have fun and get your toes tapping, but have an intellectually stimulating discussion with your date after regarding how our society is still using justice as show business almost one-hundred years later.


~Julie Riehm McGuffey


 Photo by Craig Davis

Disclosure: CenterStage provided two tickets in exchange for this review.