‘Chicago’ guilty of first-degree theater

May 14, 2013

By Peter Clark

It is a shame so many have experienced “Chicago” the musical in the form of the award-winning 2002 movie. If there is one thing  Village Theatre’s new show proves, it is  the real heart of the piece demands to be set on a stage with many flashing lights and an enthralled audience. Through that awareness, the cast and crew of “Chicago” bring a wickedly lively spectacle to Front Street.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the dark comedy musical about two women seeking notoriety from their murderous ways in the 1920s is the scenery. Rather than shifting sets attempting to absorb you into the story, the stage is a large vaudeville stage of staircases and a balcony. Props roll in and out, but never take any attention away from the fact that you are watching a grand, self-aware spectacle. The balcony doubles as an elevated place to bask in the spotlight and a gallows. Sticking to this foundational identity of the musical, originally opened on Broadway in 1975, is the reason Village Theatre’s production succeeds so well.

Director Steve Tomkins and Choreographer Kristin Holland, who have worked together several times before, struck out to establish this production with a vivacious embrace of the dark comedy. With the whole show’s tongue firmly in its cheek, Tomkins spoke before the opening of finding pleasure in the audience being “in on the joke” the whole way through. This was accomplished by reveling in a spirit of the production that contains a sort of garish, burlesque appeal.

You can’t have a sparkling show without amazing talent and Village Theatre provided that as well. Taryn Darr in the lead role of Roxie Hart deserves the lead bill. Though the role isn’t emotionally subtle, she hits every note of humor and drama on the bull’s eye. Darr displayed ease in movement and song that defined the grandiose show. Also notable was Timothy McCuen as lawyer Billy Flynn. In a show dominated by women, McCuen stood out as bringing a flare for suave masculinity and charm that served well to balance the bombshells surrounding him.

In a musical known for its lavish set pieces, Village Theatre’s rendition earns that regard. From the disco ball bling of “Razzle Dazzle” to the smoking hot siren-song “Cell Block Tango,” every move is designed to extend the words, crafting wholly engaging numbers that put a smile on your face and keep it there.

A particular favorite was the song “We Both Reached for the Gun.” In it, McCuen handles Darr like a ventriloquist dummy for a gaggle of reporters. It exudes style, impressive dance and humor. There is an honest difficulty in favoring one moment over another in a production that is loaded with surprises and invention.

A mild note in the show was the performance of Desiree Davar as Velma Kelly. Her intensity and bravado seemed slightly out of place. She had difficulty pulling off the rough-and-tumble, bad-girl persona. Her toothy grin was more beauty queen than swarthy temptress. She was not bad in the slightest. Capable and exact, she performed with distinct professionalism. She merely glittered while other cast members radiated.

This show was meant for an audience. It feeds off of it. The hoots and hollers of the crowd fit like old stage shows. Tomkins was correct; within the subtext is a dark, satirical joke. He managed to include the audience in every part of that joke. He did not act alone. The explosive talent of the music and dance cannot be ignored. The cast and crew married the sensuality, violence and humor is a way that is criminal.

 

If you go

‘Chicago’

  • Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
  • 303 Front St. N.
  • Through June 29
  • Showtimes vary
  • Tickets: $22-$63
  • www.villagetheatre.org/issaquah/tickets.php
  • Box Office: 392-2202
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