By Bridgette M. Redman
The musical “Chicago” isn’t shy about telling you what you’ll get: a stage full of liars, murderers and manipulators. It’s not just the underbelly of a city during a particularly lawless time when sex, booze and jazz were the currency of the realm, it’s a musical that exposes the worst of humanity and suggests that the only way through it is to be entertained by the razzle-dazzle of the wicked.
And at Tibbits Opera House, they’ll provide plenty of razzle-dazzle, fancy choreography and colorful flashes of lights and costumes to keep you thoroughly entertained while the characters get away with murder and convince you their victims deserved every last knife stroke and bullet. Only the innocent are hung in “Chicago,” and the steadfast and loyal are relegated to the status of clowns and gulls.
It’s a young cast taking the stage at Tibbits, and they fill the show with a nearly boundless energy, especially while dancing. Director Kevin Halpin’s choreography is flashy and precise, demanding much from the chorus and even more from the leads. He fills the stage with kicks and lifts and acrobatics, telling the story through spectacle and glitz.
Amy Lamberti as Velma Kelly, Aisling Halpin as Roxie Hart and Altamiece’ Carolyn Ballard-Cooper as Matron Mama commanded the stage with a strong presence and vocals that filled the theater. Halpin was continually sexy, even as she tried to hide it behind moping expressions and the fake repentance on the witness stand.
Lamberti, meanwhile, gave Velma the necessary hard edge and moved with the strength and grace of a Tiger through each of her demanding dance numbers. Ballard-Cooper played a matron who wanted it all from her chickies, not just their money, but their devotion and their bodies.
Chad Tallon easily won the sympathies of the audience as Amos Hart, the only decent man on the stage. Halpin’s choice to use him in numbers such as “Roxie” added depth to the character and gave more opportunities for Tallon’s fine abilities.
Theresa Hartman’s costume design ran hot and cold. There were fantastic special effects that could razzle dazzle, especially those costumes that had to be ripped apart or torn off quickly on stage. She also created a snazzy color scheme that worked well for each character. However, there was a lack of specificity in period that if intentional, needed to be more strongly presented in other show aspects. Roxie was occasionally given traditional period dress, but the chorus was put in modern-day teddies that emphasized curves – a style contrary to the ’20s flapper and jazz look. They were put in what today’s media presents as sexy, with too much of the plunging cleavage and not enough fringe. There were also several costume mishaps during the Friday night performance, which the actors played through with professional aplomb.
With most of the performers sporting period hair styles, Velma’s was sometimes distracting, for the modified bob that is short in the back with longer hair framing the face is a very modern look.
The musicians for the show got to leave the traditional pit and take up residence in the back of the stage, a constant silhouette led by musical director Kristen Lee Rosenfeld. It was part of a very clever and compact stage design by Brittany Elias that made every inch of the stage productive. Prison cells were wheeled in and mobile enough to be props in dance numbers, the middle of the stage opened to spit out beds and two matching staircases let actors and dancers take advantage of multiple levels to wow audiences with every number.
The multiple levels worked especially well for the number “We Both Reached for the Gun,” with Richard Baker’s Billy Flynn manipulating both Roxie and the entire press corp as his marionette puppets who would willingly repeat his lies so long as they made good copy.
Tibbits Opera House puts on a solid production of this classic, much-loved musical. It is filled with all the requisite flash and each actor fully commits to the role no matter how big the choice.
Tibbits Summer Theatre, Tibbits Opera House, 14 S. Hanchett St., Coldwater. Wednesday-Saturday through July 21. $10-$27. 517-278-6029. http://www.tibbits.org