REVIEW: One con deserves another as South Shore Theatre Works continues with lively ‘Chicago the Musical’

With the recent premiere of the highly-anticipated FX biographical miniseries, Fosse/Verdon about the sizzling creative and romantic partnership between legendary filmmaker and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and spectacular Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams), it seems Fosse and Verdon’s influence is still everywhere.  So, it is not surprising that South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) is taking on what SSTW’s Executive Director and President Richard Bento called, “a dream production of mine to direct,” Chicago the Musical continuing through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School in Weymouth, MA.  This show is not for young audiences.  Click here for more information and tickets.

One of Fosse’s most popular creations was a dark satire dealing with corruption and murder during the Jazz age called Chicago the Musical.  This Tony award-winning production continues to thrill audiences as one of the longest running Broadway musicals and its most recent 2002 film adaptation was the 2002 Academy award-winning film starring Renee Zellwegger (Roxie), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma) and Richard Gere (Billy Flynn) garnered a few Academy Awards.

SSTW's 'Chicago the Musical' cast

The cast of ‘Chicago the Musical’ Photo by Annabella Valle/South Shore Theatre Works

How has Chicago the Musical earned its longevity?  The proof is in its clever, satirical storytelling that isn’t afraid to occasionally shock, its sizzling choreography, memorable characters, catchy music, and its frank, timeless message about humanity.  With an impressive, semi-interactive fifteen-piece orchestra led by conductor Doug Gerber that elevates the action onstage plus additional songs not featured in its most recent film adaptation, this darkly humorous production is off to a good start.

With a modest set featuring vintage theatre lights that illuminate the stage, director Richard Bento keeps this production in classic Fosse form dressing his dancers in black. The close-knit, tight choreography by co-choreographers Richard Bento and Amy Valle Wallace includes some dance crazes of the Jazz Age that make for some visual sizzle.  Though the classic number Cell Block Tango needs a bit more snarl, clever Razzle Dazzle boasts some sleek staging.

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Headlining this colorful cast is Stephanie Wallace as desperate, hot tempered and fast-living Roxie Hart.  With a great scowl and energetically navigating Roxie’s myriad of emotions, it is easy to see how Wallace relishes this character.  She is never better than during her natural and engaging signature song, Roxie Hart.

Jaclyn Cleary lends a mix of sharp sophistication and mayhem to Velma Kelly, a former dancer turned criminal.  Her wild, light eyes reveal a smugness and unsteadiness that will keep you guessing her next move.  Having seen Chicago the Musical quite a few times, I admire Jaclyn Cleary’s sleek vocals and not so by-the-numbers rendition of All That Jazz.  She and Matron Mama Morton, portrayed charismatically by Hanna Ford, have great chemistry.  They are two sides of the same coin in their rendition of Class.

Staring down her glasses with an ironically sophisticated air is Hannah Ford as Matron Mama Morton.  With a belt that certainly packs a punch, her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama clearly shows she knows how to pull some strings and depicts Mama in a different and refreshing way.

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Wielding a cane, Aaron Stolicker masterfully navigates the cast and the audience as suave, shrewd, and debonair Billy Flynn, sharply dressed in a black tuxedo.  He’s full on smirking charm in the number, All I Care About is Love and quite the storyteller in his rendition of They Both Reached for the Gun, a complex, energetic number with strong choreography.  J. Merlo adds some humor and some serious pipes as journalist Mary Sunshine.

South Shore Theatre Works continues Chicago the Musical through Saturday, April 20 at Abigail Adams Middle School, 89 Middle Street in Weymouth, MA.  Click here fore more information, tickets, and how to support South Shore Theatre Works, an organization that recently celebrated its third anniversary.  Click here for more information about South Shore Theatre Works and its Executive Director and President, Richard Bento.

 

REVIEW: Engrossing and unpredictable, Hub Theatre’s ‘The Clearing’ a fierce and resonating historical drama

After venturing to the second star to the right in Hub Theatre’s rollicking Peter Pan musical prequel in Peter and the Starcatcher, Hub Theatre Company of Boston kicked off its seventh season with a fierce and romantic historical drama exploring the aftermath of war and the cost of justice in Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing continuing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston in Boston, Massachusetts. Tickets are available at a pay-what-you-can basis.  The show contains mature themes.  Click here for more information.

Hub Theatre's The Clearing

Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Engrossing and unpredictable, The Clearing reaches deep into the motives of loyalty and questions the very nature of what is right.  Taking place during 17th century Ireland after the Nine Year’s War and directed by Daniel Bourque, The Clearing is a beautiful, forbidden love story in the thick of a tense, tumultuous landscape and a transformative piece addressing issues that resonate in today’s culture.

The Clearing has a small cast and First Church Boston’s intimate setting, without a bad seat, makes it easy to immerse yourself into this compelling fictional tale set in historical times.  The Clearing’s set by Cassie Chapados has a natural, romantic flair, embellished by flowering trees, lamplight, and an open ceiling.  From lace to frill to gold, Erica Desautels and Nancy Ishara’s detailed, coordinated costumes capture the atmosphere of its time while Ian Conway’s impressive sound design helps to maintain the show’s intensity.

Not knowing much about the production prior to entering the theater made the show that much more enjoyable, but should mention the great chemistry between the cast.  Brashani Reece portrays Madeleine Preston, a wide-eyed and bubbly spitfire.  Reece as Madeleine is charismatic, stubborn, and charming, who often cannot see past her own heart.  She shares endearing, playful chemistry with Matthew Zahnzinger as naïve and adoring Robert.  With smiling eyes, Zahnzinger portrays Robert with mix of smugness and gentility and the two of them together make for some of the show’s best moments.  Although The Clearing is not a musical, Reece’s lovely rendition of an Irish lullaby makes for a sweet moment.

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Lily Steven depicts Killaine Farrell, Madeleine’s quiet and humble companion. With a far off gaze and a shy smile, Steven as Killaine draws sympathy in her painful selflessness, always longing to live in the past.  She and Reece have a sisterly connection.

Jeff Gill delivers a chilling, commanding performance as Sir Charles Sturman.  With beady, wrathful eyes, his righteous and brutal practicality is only weakened by an irksome ailment.  Although the entire cast is strong, his domineering presence will keep you transfixed.  Robin Abrahams depicts world-weary Susaneh, her dry humor makes for a few needed laughs in this mostly serious production.

Although Helen Edmunson’s The Clearing could have been heavy handed as it addresses issues such as culture clash and the lingering resentment of post-war politics, but director Daniel Bourque’s delicate balance achieves a fascinating and enlightening day at the theatre.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Tony-nominated historical drama The Clearing through Saturday, April 20 at First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and follow Hub Theatre Company on Facebook for further updates.