Produced by: San Jose Stage
Directed by: Randall King
Choreographed by: Tracey Freeman Shaw
Music direction by: Benjamin Belew
Featuring: Allison F. Rich, Monique Hafen Adams, Keith Pinto, Branden Noel Thomas, Kyle Bielfield, Tracey Freeman Thomas, Sean Doughty, Matthew Kropschot, Jacquelin Neeley, Jill Miller, Zoey Lytle, Monica Moe, Tony Wooldridge, Vinh G. Nguyen, Patrick Wayne Brewer
Running time: 130 minutes, one intermission
When: February 5 through March 15, 2020
Where: The Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose
Tickets: $32-$60. Call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.
along with 'All That Jazz'
The San Jose Stage production of “Chicago” marks the second time in the San Francisco Bay Area I have sincerely wished for extra eyes in my head so I could see more of what was happening on the stage.
The other was another Kander & Ebb show, “Cabaret,” at Hillbarn Theatre, in 2017.
That production also had the great Keith Pinto on stage — in “Cabaret,” he was totally brilliant as the Emcee; in “Chicago,” he plays the slick, high-steppin’ lawyer, Billie Flynn.
Where to look in this “Chicago”? Well, with Pinto, watch his feet, shod in fancy, two-tone brogues that are so polished they could serve as mirrors in the Hubble space telescope. Pinto, who sometimes teaches dance at San Jose State, is dazzling and dizzying with his amazing footwork.
And there are plenty of other fabulous dancers of all sexes to watch, choreographed brilliantly by Tracey Freeman Shaw (who also plays Go-To-Hell Kitty and Annie). Freeman Shaw captures the spirit and much of the technique of the original Bob Fosse choreography, but manages to install it in about one-quarter the amount of space Fosse had to work with.
And it’s fabulous. Freeman Shaw sometimes has squads of six or more dancers moving in Fosse-like groups, with all kinds of complicated things going on — in unison — with arms and legs.
The Stage is a small space, really, and it is delightful to watch all these sexy people out there, very near the audience, clad in lingerie, tight T-shirts and shirtless vests, brilliantly performing some very complicated choreography.
And, overall, it is a fun show, with director Randall King squeezing every possible laugh from the story, which is about two vaudeville performers, hotsy-totsy, sexy women, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who both want to squeeze as much publicity as they can from having murdered people.
In prison, Velma is feeling pretty good about her prospects, thanks to hiring slick, media-savvy lawyer Billy Flynn, and to the friendship of jail matron “Mama” Morton. Mama is played with considerable gusto, heavy red lipstick and rich, grainy timbre by tenor Branden Noel Thomas.
But then Roxie Hart shoots the guy she’d been cheating with, and joins the crowd of murderous women in jail, and starts getting more publicity than Velma — with whom she shares vaudeville ambitions.
One of the best and most fun songs in the show is “Cell Block Tango,” wherein six jailed women charged with murder sing, “He had it coming / He had it coming / He only had himself to blame.”
In 1926, reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins staged the play on which the musical was based, loaded with cynicism about the foolishness of the public and its willingness to love murderers. Nine decades before a huckster, then running for president, was to say, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”
Much of the comedy in this powerfully entertaining show is provided by the great leading actors, Allison F. Rich as Velma, and Monique Hafen Adams as Roxie.
What to watch when they are on stage, both with plentiful décolletage and sexy lingerie?
Because both Rich and Hafen Adams are masters of comedy, and they deliver in very different ways, but each with considerable success. Rich, who is taller, completely nails the physical comedy of “When Velma Takes the Stand,” and gets the eager goofiness of the song in her face. Hafen Adams, who is petite but powerful, does these amazing, subtle things with her face that almost defy description, but completely deliver the humor. (She also showed this ability in the title role of “Sweet Charity” in 2016 at Hillbarn Theatre.)
Sean Doughty completely won over the audience as Amos Hart, Roxie’s cuckolded husband, who is a sap of the first degree. His performance of “Mister Cellophane,” which is an excellent, heartbreaking and funny song, had the audience in the palm of his hand, and deservedly so.
Another amazing performance came from tenor Kyle Bielfield as gullible reporter Mary Sunshine. He delivers “A Little Bit of Good” with considerable operative skill.
Scenic designer Robert Pickering puts it all on a fairly simple stage, although one with plenty of steps for dancers to prance upon, and a couple of stage-side ladders that get good use in different songs. The band, conducted by pianist Benjamin Belew, was mostly excellent, including some impressive trumpet chops from Michael Beveridge or Justin Smith (they each play for different performances.)
Ashley Garlick, who was plenty amazing at The Stage in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and in “Rocky Horror Show,” gives us eye-catching costumes, from skimpy bras and panties to Billy’s slick, pin-striped suit.
King and stage manager Michael Truman Cavanaugh deserve kudos for keeping everybody in the right places at the right times; it couldn’t be easy, in The Stage’s small spaces.
The sound mix got a little troublesome partway through Act I, when the band got too loud for sung lyrics to be understood. A small complaint about what is, overall, a great production.
On Valentine’s Day, the audience seemed completely packed. Getcher tickets soonest!