By Sue Merrell
Roxie rocks Saugatuck as Mason Street Warehouse opens its ninth season with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s naughty classic, “Chicago.”
The joint – Saugatuck Center for the Arts – was definitely jumping Saturday with a horn-heavy eight-piece band stationed on stage above the pair of jail cells that create the setting for this Prohibition Era tale of murder, corruption, greed and all that jazz.
Although the set and all the costumes are black, and the subject sounds inherently dark, the infectious beat of the score chases away any shred of somber and weaves a spell that is much more seductive.
Told in a style that is somewhere between vaudeville (a series of spotlight solos), circus (acrobatic dance moves and singers hanging from ladders) and cabaret (barely there costumes), this show is all about using a little razzle-dazzle to cover up crime and even turn criminals into celebrities.
Chorus girl Roxie (Robyn Hurder) kills her lover and is jailed with a bevy of other beautiful killers, including Velma (Charissa Bertels), a vaudeville star who murdered her husband and sister. (Don’t worry. They had it coming.) With the help of prison matron Mama Morton (Mary Robin Roth) and smarmy attorney Billy Flynn (Christopher Carl), the killers become stars in the newspaper headlines, at least until an even bigger crime steals the limelight.
As Roxie, Hurder is charmingly seductive. She can be so sweet when praising her husband’s love (“Funny Honey”), and then turn vicious in an instant. But when she’s dancing with her boys in “Roxie,” and giggling coquettishly as they show off their sexy moves, she seals the deal. She’s luring us in and having a ball doing it.
Carl is the perfect slimeball as Flynn, singing “All I Care About” with practiced nasal arrogance and all-about-me bravado. But when he’s pulling Roxie’s strings in “We Both Reached for the Gun,” he wisely resists the urge to mug and lets his “dummy” steal the show.
Bertels has the vocal power to lead the opening number, “All that Jazz,” and can turn on the humor for the rapid-fire antics of “I Can’t Do It Alone.” Roth has that down-and-dirty guttural belt of a much larger mama, such as Sophie Tucker. Bertels and Roth blend nicely on “Class.”
G.M. Toles does a convincing job as the sob-sister journalist, Mary Sunshine, flirting with Billy and raising the roof with lingering high notes on “A Little Bit of Good.” Although nothing in this play should be taken too seriously, I thought Toles’ overly red-rouged cheeks were a little clownish and distracting.
Ooops, I don’t dare forget to mention Michael Iannucci who does such a fantastic job as Amos, Roxie’s often overlooked husband. His number, “Mr. Cellophane,” is one of the many songs I’ll find myself humming for days.
Director/choreographer Kurt Stamm has done a great job of incorporating the big-hands, snappy-details dance style of Bob Fosse, especially on the opening number. And the dance numbers are well executed by the scantily-clad ensemble, most of whom are acting interns from Western Michigan University. I especially enjoyed the way the pace of “All That Jazz” quickens and the tension builds as Roxie is about to fire her gun.
As is usually the case at Mason Street, most of the production details are handled artfully, such as the shiny confetti that slowly filters down during “Razzle Dazzle,” lingering through several measures of the song instead of being dumped all at once. But the Saturday night performance did have some problems with microphone feedback and a sluggish spotlight.
There’s a reason this catchy 1975 musical was revived on Broadway in 1996, where it continues running to this day. Once you see it, you can’t get it out of your head. So, if you haven’t seen it lately, take in the Mason Street production. You have it coming.
Mason Street Warehouse, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck. Tuesday-Sunday through July 17. $26-$39.75. 269-857-4898. www.masonstreet