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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Chicago The Musical’ company razzle dazzles ’em in De Pere

Critic At Large

Birder Players

Caitlin Lloyd, in the role of murderess Roxie Hart, rehearses a scene with dancers in the Birder Players production of “Chicago The Musical.” (Company photo)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

“Chicago The Musical” has an attitude. The musical struts as it savors the blood-thirsty, sex-craving, big-city newspaper headlines of the 1920s.

Birder Players splashes that sensation in people’s laps in its high-octane production in the company’s up-close-and-personal Broadway Theatre.

Three performances remain to Sunday, Feb. 16, with Feb. 16 being an add-on.

Performances sizzle – the two leads of not-so-lady-like murderesses, the smarmy shyster lawyer who is only in it for love (yeah, right), the sinewy (male) and sassy (female) dance entourages, individual colorful character roles and the red-hot band.

Director and co-choreographer Alicia Birder makes the thing move, which is her trademark with big-title shows from Broadway.

The story that is based on fact (really!), with exaggeration piled on exaggeration: Cell block tootsies Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly vie for reader-grabbing headlines in the wake of having offed a lover (Roxie) and acrobatic act teammates caught cheating on her (Velma). Cheesy lawyer Billy Flynn plays everybody for a sucker, notably Roxie’s milquetoast husband, Amos.

Important in the credits of originators is Bob Fosse, whose name signifies a certain style in dance – a kind of physical art deco. In choreography, Alicia Birder and Anna Allen tune in on the Fosse aura, with their dancers pulling off all sorts of flashy, demanding and sometimes daring moves.

The biggest challenges – met with verve – are for Caitlin Lloyd (Roxie) and Ana Lissa Bakken (Velma) in song, dance, characterization and, in a sense, surviving their roles. Ana Lissa Bakken throws herself into a bunch of tricky maneuvers in “When Velma Takes the Stand.” Toward the end, Ana Lissa Bakken and Caitlin Lloyd are a singing/dancing duo whose moves include a cartwheel and splits. Along the way, the two and other female dancers tend to be lifted and torqued in multiple ways by the male dancers – all, basically, hard stuff.

One of the hallmark scenes of “Chicago The Musical” is “Cellblock Tango” with a murder’s row of women – all innocent, mind you – individually reliving and justifying their deed. All are dressed with a certain brevity, so a sensual tone fills their action and singing.

Devilish delight abounds in “Chicago The Musical.” Jon Weiss dials into that as Billy Flynn connives and connives and connives in his kind of, as the song says, “Razzle Dazzle.” Jon Weiss and Caitlyn Lloyd (and much of the company) crackle in another of the nifty scenes. Billy Flynn becomes a ventriloquist and Roxie is his dummy, with he speaking for her as she “testifies” in court.

The production doesn’t quit in color. That includes the character roles of the worldly cellblock matron (Susan Elliott); Roxie’s vanilla husband, “Mr. Cellophane Man,” indeed (Warren Elliott); and the bleeding-heart newspaper reporter (Sarah Doyle, who has a bright voice).

None of this would work as well as it does without the band made up of astute players. The music has a jazz flair that takes skill and experience to deliver. The band has the right stuff.

The pit for the band is right square in the middle of the stage. The set is two levels of a cellblock that sweeps around the musicians, with stairways on both ends. In a sense, the audience is in the cellblock, too. The show is captivating – ha ha.

***

Creative: Book – Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; music – John Kander; lyrics – Fred Ebb, based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; script adaptation – David Thompson; director – Alicia Birder; music director – Chad Lemerande ed b; book – Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; choreographers – Anna Allen, Alicia Birder; lighting design – Jeffery James Frelich Jr.; sound design – Chris Gabyrczak; set design – Warren Elliott; prop design – Tracey Cook; hair design – Daniel Pagel; scenic artist – Susan Elliott; sound engineer – Chloe Ledvina; stage manager – Lauren Schultz; assistant stage manager – Jenna Peterson; wardrobe coordinator – Jolee Jackson

Cast (in order of appearance):

Velma Kelly – Ana Lissa Bakken

Roxie Hart – Caitlin Lloyd

Fred Casely – Zeb Metzler

Sergeant Fogarty – Bucky Marklein

Amos Hart – Warren Elliott

Liz – Mary Delaney

Annie – Kim Flinchum

June – Ann Preiss Gray

Hunyak – Haley Marks (Feb. 1, 7, 14, 15); Mikaela Torbenson (Jan. 31, Feb. 6, 8, 9)

Mona – Anna Allen

Matron “Mama” Morton -Susan Elliott

Billy Flynn – Jon Weiss

Mary Sunshine – Sarah Doyle

Go-To-Hell Kitty – Gina Anderson

Harry – Michael Jacobs

Doctor – Josh Lewis

Aaron – Bucky Marklein

Bailiff – Josh Lewis

Judge – Michael Jacobs

Martin Harrison – Bucky Marklein

Court Clerk – Josh Lewis

The Jury – Ann Preiss Gray

Ensemble Men – Aidan Averbeck, Michael Jacobs, Bucky Marklein, Zeb Metzler

Ensemble Women – Anna Allen, Gina Anderson, Mary Delaney, Kim Flinchum, Haley Marks, Ann Preiss Gray, Mikaela Torbenson

The Band: Accompanist – Connor Klavekoske; drums/Buddy – Parker Drew; banjo, guitars – Dan Weaver; violin – Kristine Weaver; bass – Tony Presavento; trumpet – Jamie Waroff; woodwinds – Nicklas Waroff

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Feb. 14; 2 p.m. Feb. 15; (added) 2 p.m. Feb. 16

Info: birderonbroadway.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – The Band

“All That Jazz” – Velma Kelly and Company

“Funny Honey” – Roxie Hart

“Cell Block Tango” – Velma and the Murderesses

“When You’re Good to Mama” – Matron “Mama” Morton

“Tap Dance” – Roxie, Amos and Boys

“All I Care About” – Billy Flynn and Girls

“A Little Bit of Good” – Mary Sunshine

“We Both Reached for the Gun” – Billy, Roxie, Mary Sunshine and Company

“Roxie” – Roxie and Boys

“I Can’t Do It Alone” – Velma

“My Own Best Friend” – Roxie and Velma

Act II

Entr’acte – The Band

“I Know a Girl” – Velma

“Me and My Baby” – Roxie and Boys

“Mr. Cellophane” – Amos Hart

“When Velma Takes the Stand” – Velma and Boys

“Razzle Dazzle” – Billy and Company

“Class” – Velma and Matron

“Nowadays” – Velma and Roxie

“Hot Honey Rag” – Velma and Roxie

 “Finale: All That Jazz” (Reprise) – Company

***

NEXT: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” musical, April 3-19.

THE VENUE: Broadway Theatre is a 154-seat, 3,000-square-foot facility at 123 S. Broadway on the east side of the Fox River in De Pere. The building started life as the Majestic Theatre sometime around 1930. The space is essentially a “black box” performance space that is adjusted to the needs of a specific production. The rectangular space includes a high, arcing ceiling consisting primarily of its original patterned tin, painted white, and a laminate dark brown floor. The stage is set on a long leg of the space, with movable seating for 140 on three sides. The stage has an angled front with three steps to the top surface. The stage for “Chicago The Musical” is painted black, to go along with the overall look of the set. Performances mostly take place on the main level of the seating area, so action is close at hand. The theater is the home for performances and rehearsals of the youth Birder Studio of Performing Arts and adult Birder Players, and it is another option for other endeavors of entertainment.

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