Monday, September 14, 2015

theatre review - CHICAGO - Phoenix Theatre - September 11, 2015

Jenny Hintze and Kate E. Cook
Photo: Erin Evangeline /Phoenix Theatre

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 4th.

It isn't often that you can say you were there when "a star was born." Yet that's just what is happening right now at the Phoenix Theatre. After years of playing featured or ensemble roles across the Valley, Kate E. Cook steps up to play the lead as Roxie Hart in Phoenix Theatre's smashing production of Chicago, her first starring role at Phoenix's oldest professional theatre company. Cook is so absolutely perfect in the part, and Michael Barnard's succinct direction so exceptional, that any fan of this show will be overjoyed at the experience of seeing the classic musical presented in this fresh, vibrant production.  Chicago tells the story of two murderesses in 1920s Chicago and is a satirical fantasy on the scandal of that period and the glorified celebrity that was the result of these sensationalized criminals. Roxie Hart...(and)...Velma Kelly.. battle with each other to keep their cases, and names, in the spotlight, and together Velma and Roxie depend on Matron "Mama" Morton and lawyer Billy Flynn to not only help them fool the media into believing they are innocent, but also in, hopefully, getting them off. As Mama says, "In Chicago, murder is a form of entertainment" and songwriting duo John Kander and Fred Ebb brilliantly use a virtual non-stop parade of vaudeville style show-stopping tunes to portray and comment on the inner thoughts of the characters.  Cook gives Roxie the right balance of warmth, vulnerability, and charm set against the shrewd knowledge of what she needs to do to get her way. I've seen previous actresses portray Roxie as a simpleton, yet Cook's decision to portray her as cunning, and even all-knowing, brings the role to life and makes Roxie a vibrant character with multiple layers. She also gives a clear spontaneity to her line readings that makes the comic ones zing and her touching moments sincere, and even downright heartbreaking when she realizes she actually may be found guilty. Cook's delivery of her many songs is vibrant, with perfect, powerful, and soaring vocals combined with non-stop, thrilling dance moves. Cook makes you root for her Roxie, even though you know she is guilty of murder, and that alone says a lot. Cook is a stellar triple threat.  Jenny very good at showing Velma's constant fight to make herself a star. She dances up a storm, while belting her numbers out, including delivering an exceptional, powerful version of the show's best known song, "All That Jazz." ... Director Michael Barnard sets the show firmly in the colorful, razzle-dazzle vaudeville world of the 1920s. His direction of the cast is exceptional and he keeps the show moving at a fast clip...While the original Broadway production and the revival both used Bob Fosse's choreography, choreographer Sam Hay has come up with a number of styles which occasionally hint at but don't appear to actually copy Fosse's steps...His "Me and My Baby" is exceptional and his choreography for "Roxie" includes some splendidly fluid acrobatic lifts. ...Phoenix Theatre's Chicago is a thrilling, sharp and sexy production, brought to life by Kate E. Cook's stunning and exceptional star tune as Roxie, Michael Barnard's superb direction, Hay's vibrant and varied choreography, and some striking creative elements. If you've only seen the revival version of the musical or if you've never seen this show, you owe it to yourself to see Phoenix Theatre's simply sublime Chicago-Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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