Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Featuring: Janelle LaSalle, Elizabeth Santana, Michael Monagle, Jennifer Taylor Daniels, N. Sanchez, Robert Sanchez, Joey McDaniel, Mohamed Ismail, Tara Harte, Jennifer Hernandez, Daron O'Donnell, Kathryn Petak, Angelique Shepherd, Laura Warner, Marc Gonzalez, Zendrex Llado, Shahil Patel, Robert Read, Robbie Reign, Michael Saenz and Terrance Saffold Jr.
Directed and choreographed by: Janie Scott
Music direction by: Katie Coleman
When: September 12-27, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets: $35-$49 (discounts available). Call 650-329-0891 or www.paplayers.org
I'd never seen "Chicago" on stage I'd only ever seen the 2002 movie, which I don't remember liking so was not prepared for the greatness of the Palo Alto Players production now at the Lucie Stern, directed and choreographed by the brilliant Janie Scott.
And, what an amazing ensemble of dancers I don't think I have ever seen this many dancers this good performing this well in a San Francisco Bay Area regional show, ever. And among Broadway road shows I have seen, only "Spring Awakening" was as impressive.
How much is Bob Fosse's original choreography and how much is Scott's work I do not know, but it is Scott who got these amazing dancers to move in this production, and move they do with flawless, beautiful unity really, you could go to this show for the dancing alone and be well served.
But, as it happens, there is an entire musical play going on and a bunch of fabulous music, excellently performed by a fine, onstage orchestra directed by Katie Coleman.
"Chicago" began as a parody of sensational press coverage of good-looking murderesses in the 1920s, written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Bright, well-educated and sardonic, Watkins had been a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where she covered the murder trials of two "jazz babies," both of whom were found not guilty, although Watkins reportedly thought they were guilty.
Her play had a nice little run on Broadway, then toured for a couple of years, including in Los Angeles, where an unknown actor, Clark Gable, played the most hapless role in the play.
Broadway great Gwen Verdon read the play and asked her husband, the great Bob Fosse, to turn it into a musical. It took some time to get the rights, because Watkins, always a Christian, had become more conservative and didn't like the idea of celebrating the wild times of the jazz age in Chicago.
But then she died, and her estate was happy enough to sell the rights, and Fosse, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb turned it into a fabulous musical, which was an enormous hit originally and as a revival on Broadway, and in the West End.
It is the musical that introduced one of the killer ear-worms of all time, "All That Jazz," into the musical lexicon.
"All That Jazz" is the first sung song after the overture, and Janelle LaSalle, who has a great and powerful voice, knocks it out of the park as Velma, who is in prison awaiting trial because somehow her boyfriend and her sister, who had been cheating on her, mysteriously got murdered.
Velma is hoping to get all the publicity she can from the case which is sensationally treated in the newspapers and use that to develop a vaudeville career.
But then along comes Roxie Hart, who'd pulled the trigger multiple times when her lover tried to dump her, then talked her hapless husband, Amos (Clark Gable in L.A.) into confessing to the crime.
Roxie, who is an attractive blonde, starts eating up the news coverage, which makes Velma all cranky, and a competition begins.
After the show on opening night, I kept seeing a stunningly beautiful woman at the soirée in the lobby afterward, and wondered who she was.
She was Elizabeth Santana, who put on a blonde wig to play Roxie.
Santana also has a fabulous voice.
In the mix are Michael Monagle as the slick lawyer Billy Flynn, who says if Jesus Christ had had $5,000 to hire him, back then, things would have turned out differently. Hilarious performance the guy has plenty of stage charisma and is fun to watch.
Jennifer Taylor Daniels, a blues and jazz singer from Santa Cruz, has lots of pipes and attitude to sing "When You're Good to Mama," as the jail matron who is managing the hoped-for vaudeville careers of both killers before their releases.
Joey McDaniel, who'd been a brilliant Uncle Fester in the Players' production of "Addams Family," has the Clark Gable role as Amos, the cuckolded husband. Lots of funny stuff here.
Mohamed Ismail is very funny as Fred Casely, the lover Roxie kills, and he has plenty to say about it. He is also excellent as the MC, and sits in the jury for Roxie's trial.
N. Sanchez, as the reporter Mary Sunshine, provides some very impressive vocal gymnastics.
Now, let us please take a moment to give thanks for the fabulously beautiful women in the ensemble. And, in honor of women I spoke with on opening night, we may also be grateful for the men's ensemble.
Fun fact: All the chorus women and men were dressed in underwear or pajamas, and they were all quite attractive, although, perhaps, humorously so.
As different roles were needed members of the press, members of the jury, nightclub dancers, whatever they might put on sports jackets or whatever, but from the hips down, always underwear.
It added a tacky tone of hilarity to everything.
And, it must be noted, at least one of the women dancers had legs that almost reached the proscenium in high kicks, although director Scott said there were no women in the cast taller than 5-foot-8.
I'm not saying I don't believe Ms. Scott, whom I respect greatly, but at least one of the women in the chorus had legs that were at least 18 feet long.
It was a lovely thing to see.
I could not figure out who that particular dancer was. You'll just have to go see for yourself.
Scenic design by Players Artistic Director Patrick Klein was a thing of Erector-set beauty, with jail-cell constructions on either side of stepped risers that held the members of the excellent band. Some entrances and plenty of dancing happened on poles on either side.
Dark colors of the set made the colors pop on Jeffrey Hamby's clever costumes, with a little help from lighting designer Nick Kumamoto. Grant Huberty's sound design was excellent, with extremely well-balanced sound.
Email John Orr at email@example.com