I really like Chicago. Its tuneful score, uniquely vaudevillian presentation, and delightfully naughty nature make it one of my favorite stage musicals. There's one number in the show, however, that tops them all for me: "Cell Block Tango," which is sexy, fun, and what I consider the benchmark for the overall production. And on Friday night, my entertainment needs would've been met, and then some, had the District Theatre's production actually ended after this number, even thought it's only the fourth song in the piece.
Director David Turley's treatment of the "Cell Block Tango" scene offers a natural flow of movement for each monologue, while the choreography by Christina Myatt and Kelly Lohrenz (who also serve as Chicago's leading ladies) is a sultry homage to the show's original choreographer, Bob Fosse. With Turley, Myatt, and Lohrenz crafting the tone of each merry murderess' tale of why she's behind bars with sexy shapes and syncopated motion, I wanted to leap to my feet at the end of the scene and beg to see it again - it's that exciting, stirring, and well-executed (no pun intended).
Fortunately, so, too, is the rest of this story about Roxie Hart's murder of her lover, and her attempt to get off scot-free with the help of Billy Flynn, a lawyer who's most interested in money and whatever murder case will get him into the spotlight. Roxie (Lohrenz) hopes to use the attention gained from her incarceration and trial to start a successful vaudeville act - the same plan fellow inmate Velma Kelly (Myatt) had prior to Roxie's upstaging arrival - and Lohrenz blends insincere, determined, self-centered attitudes with a somewhat subtle sexuality, while Myatt nails Velma's washed-up, antagonistic nature with hints of insecurity and fear peaking through her big, broad confidence.
Steve Lasiter manages to avoid caricature with his Billy Flynn, flashing a handsome, disingenuous smile and creating a slimy lawyer who's not too slimy to be believed. Paul Workman's effort to portray "meek" as Roxie's husband, Amos Hart, shows in the first act, but after settling into the "invisible" nature of his character, the actor's work in Amos' main scene - featuring the song "Mr. Cellophane" - seems effortless. And among the District Theatre's frequent performers, Sara King seems the obvious choice for Matron Mama Morton, and proves she's also the right choice with her intentional indifference in the role laced with suggestions of Mama's sexual interest in Velma.
Directorially, Turley offers several surprises, his most predominate - at least for those unfamiliar with Chicago on stage - being the casting of Tristan Layne Tapscott as reporter Mary Sunshine. Singing in a pitch-perfect falsetto and hamming it up without crossing over into annoying and overdone, Tapscott is campy and fun, and his familiarity to District Theatre audiences makes him an ideal choice for the drag role. (With a less recognizable actor in the part, it might just seem weird.) Among other surprising and clever touches, the location for where Myatt hides Velma's cards in the poker scene - and how many she hides - is flat-out amazing, and Turley's use of a pull-string overhead light above the Announcer at the beginning of most scenes is an especially fine touch.
Lighting designer Tapscott's visual scheme, overall, is also quite good, and a definite improvement on past productions in the company's new space. (For one thing, we can see the actors from the chairs at the top of the theatre, which is a definite plus.) The frequent low lighting gives the impression of a seedy night club - appropriate to a show with such shady themes and characters - and while there was at least one point where I didn't understand why the lighting changed to a red wash over the stage, I still appreciated the variety, and the obvious attempts at having the lighting match the tone of each scene.
Sexy, sultry, and so much fun, Chicago should be counted among the best productions staged by the District Theatre, including its previous works under the Harrison Hilltop Theatre name. Now, could I see that "Cell Block Tango" scene one more time, please?
For tickets and information, call (309)235-1654 or visit DistrictTheatre.com.