First off, I have to admit how much I love the musical Chicago. The original choreography by Bob Fosse is absolutely brilliant. The music by Kander & Ebb is some of my favorite music in musical theatre and the story by Ebb and Fosse is so smart that every time I see this show it affects me differently. Second off, I have to admit that this is my first amateur production of Chicago that I’ve seen and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was entertained throughout the evening. It’s a very hard show to produce and I commend Hillbarn Theatre for doing a great job.
The strong performances by the three leads – Carrie Madsen (Velma Kelly), Alicia Teeter (Roxie Hart) and Will Giamonna (Billy Flynn) – made this production shine against the harsh contrast of muted greys painted on the set and the lack of clear focus in the lights. Madsen carried an air of sophistication, sexiness and class that Velma Kelly has to exude from the first moment you see her on stage. Everything about her – the vocals, dance ability and acting – were spot on and right in character but her wig and costume/shoes were the opposite of sophistication, sexiness and class. Even with this clash, Madsen definitely shined through and gave a performance that was worth-watching!
Will Giamonna (Billy Flynn) was by far the stand-out performer in this production. His ease around the material was instantly noticeable when his charming opening number, “All I Care About” hit all the right notes and more. But, it was “We Both Reached for the Gun” in which Giamonna clearly shined! His ventriloquist act in this number was hysterical and executed quite well! He also carried “Razzle Dazzle” to a great finish even when the choreography was a bit underwhelming. I look forward to seeing Giamonna in future productions around the Bay Area.
Alicia Teeter’s feisty Roxie Hart was fun and interesting. Teeter could have easily played Roxie as shallow and heartless but she didn’t. Teeter created a backstory in all of her dialogue and songs that led her into a fantastic rendition of “I Can’t Do it Alone.”
The best number of the night was “Class” sung by Velma and Mama Morton (Raegena Raymond). They just sat at their table and sang the hell out of it! There was no movement, no dancing, no gimmicks; they just told the story. There was something about the stillness in this number that let the material sparkle! Raymond’s vocals were also quite fantastic throughout the evening.
I don’t think the leads in this show were supported as much as they could have been. The choreography, while solid, wasn’t edgy enough nor did the costumes radiate sexiness like they should have. The band sounded great, but they were so high-up and up-staged that they never were featured and they should have been. The set was well laid out and smart, but utilized poorly (most of the songs were played down-stage center) and the lights didn’t delineate space or create a steamy/moody atmosphere. (A haze machine might have helped?!) This show should ooze of sex, drugs and booze – the very things that Roxie Hart blames her downfall/murder on. If we don’t see that edgy rawness, the whole point of the show doesn’t ring true and Hillbarn’s production didn’t have the sting you are suppose to feel as you walk out of Chicago.
Hillbarn Theatre’s first production in their 70th “to die for” season just needed a little more dazzle in their razzle but overall, the production was definitely enjoyable especially if this is your first visit to Chicago. Hopefully, you’ll fall in love with the show as much as I originally did.