On the jazz

Legacy's Chicago dazzles
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 15, 2009

chicago main
  ALL THAT The boys in the band.

The fluid line between repulsion and fascination is a quintessentially American seduction — think of P.T. Barnum's creepy chimerical "creatures," of Lizzie Borden, of a certain rogue hate-monger up in the Great White North. Perhaps because of the nation's Puritan underpinnings, moral disgust holds a particular allure, prompting that guilty-pleasurable urge to rubberneck. A Broadway send-up of this national tendency came in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal with the Jazz-Age vaudevillian antics of Chicago: When young married night-club dancer Roxie (Jessica Ernest) shoots the lover who's about to ditch her, celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn ( Paul Stickney, with great voice and suave swagger) does what he has for so many other women — turns murder into a media sensation, and the murderess into a national heroine. The recently created Legacy Theater Company mounts a wily production of the musical, directed by Raymond Marc Dumont.

Slinky song and dance are crucial to the come-on of the show, and Legacy has brought some excellent performers together under Dumont (who also choreographs) and musical director Camille Curtis Saucier. The ensemble posse of murderous Girls nives through some sharp choreography, with oomph and sass to spare. Keeping watch over the women in lock-down is the Matron "Mama" Morton (Gretchen G. Wood), a big woman with a bigger voice who manages the careers of prisoners like Velma (Cory Bucknam, with wry brio), another big-voiced murderess-celebrity and Roxie's main rival. The show's ensemble also boasts a slew of sexy skinny boys who provide sleek and accommodating support.

The six-piece band, including decadent muted horns, deserves its prominent upstage position. Although its balance with the voices could use some adjustment (vocals are sometimes lost in certain registers) the band swings, moans, and baby-talks bewitchingly through the score's erotic jazz numbers. The band has ample personality to handle being an overarching character in the show's vaudevillian sensibility.

As Roxie, Velma, Mama, and Billy scheme, their outfits also hit all the right notes, including the sexy-campy frippery of corsets, satin prison frocks, and white feathered wings bandied about Billy as he takes off his pants. The designers also have fun with the rare trappings of anti-glamour: the dowdy floral frock Billy rather sadistically insists Roxie wear to her trial, and the cartoonishly sad white gloves in which Roxie's schlemiel mechanic husband (David Heath) performs "Cellophane Man," the lament of an invisible man in a world hungry for spectacle. (Heath makes its pathos unexpectedly affecting; when he ends the song by saying, "I hope I didn't take up too much of your time," the audience emoted collectively in an audible "Awww.")

And as his no-good wife, the tall, leggy Ernest is utterly marvelous. Her voice is dulcet, her face expressive, and she is so effortless a dancer that it is difficult to look elsewhere whenever she moves. She also conveys a matter-of-factness and even an innocence in her Roxie's narcissistic desires. Roxie isn't immoral so much as blithely amoral — she's less out to do bad, and more believes standard rules simply do not apply to her. Her childishness and brazenness are reminders of whom we should really watch out for: not those choosing some obvious and absolute Evil, but those who are spectacularly, alluringly agile in defining "what's right."

Megan Grumbling can be reached at mgrumbling@hotmail.com.

CHICAGO, by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse, and John Kander | Directed and choreographed by Raymond Marc Dumont | Musical Direction by Camille Curtis Saucier | Produced by The Legacy Theater Company | at the Harry P. Garland II Auditorium, Thornton Academy, Route 1, Saco | through July 19 | 207.604.9448

Related: Illinois, Unsafe Passage: The dangers of getting to and from the job, Isn't it swell?, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Chicago, Lizzie Borden, Bob Fosse,  More more >
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