MAKING A POINT Fox, Sackal, and Bartoletti. [Photo by Randy Osga]
Come on, ’fess up. In your heart of hearts, you get a little tabloid thrill over a bang-bang jealous-lover news account. Back in 1926, when the gin was cold and the pianos hot, a female crime reporter wrote a play inspired by two such incidents. Chicago, the drama, was updated over the years into three movies and, most energetically, a musical by the same name.
URI Theatre in Kingston is staging the show (through April 27) in a rat-a-tat-tat production that may not have the dance excitement of the musical but makes up for it with two terrific performances that bring alive femme fatales who razzle-dazzle us into gleeful accessories clapping our hands off.
The music is by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb — who collaborated on Cabaret and 19 other musicals — and the book is by Ebb and choreographer Bob Fosse. It’s directed here by Paula McGlasson.
A problem with college productions of dance-heavy musicals is that they rarely have enough trained hoofers. In this foray, choreographer Dante Sciarra does a brave job trying to finesse that noticeable shortcoming, employing plenty of artful ensemble movement and poses, Charleston steps, line kicks, finger snaps, and Fosse-esque jazz hands.
The crimes involved are dealt with briskly, since it’s the consequences we need to linger over. Vaudeville dancer Velma Kelly (Julia Bartoletti) shoots her husband and sister when she finds them in bed together. Tough little redhead Roxie Hart (Anya Fox) shoots her lover in a jealous rage and talks her husband Amos (Benjamin Miller) into telling the police that he shot what he thought was a burglar (“He never says no”) — until he realizes what was going on and discloses that it was her.
The two women find themselves in jail with a half-dozen other husband- or lover-killers. In charge of the women’s block at the jail is the matron, Mama Morton (Danielle Dube), whom Velma is paying to promote her to the press as the latest headline-grabber.
Since the musical is a satire of media manipulation and sensationalism over celebrity criminals, Roxie’s dark star is bound to rise as Velma’s sinks. Key to the manipulations here is venal lawyer Billy Flynn (David Sackal). He was representing Velma first, but when he sees a publicity advantage with Roxie, he advances her trial date, though his first client is miffed at having to remain locked up longer.
The songs are what make this production shine. Velma hits the stage running, she and the company opening the show with the pizzazz of “All That Jazz.” Charisma is the name of the game in a musical, and Bartoletti plays it like a pro. Roxie almost immediately follows with a comical love song to Amos, “Funny Honey,” which praises his puppy-dog devotion and introduces us to Fox’s winsome charm. And when she later describes her character in “Roxie” (“Who says that murder’s not an art?”), she gets further opportunity to win us over with a quirky and vivacious personality.