Review | Chicago: loud, brassy, charming — and a great story

Theater Latté Da, through November 3

Reed Sigmund in CHICAGO. Photo by Dan Norman.

Veteran HWTS reviewers Janet Preus and John Olive attended the opening of Chicago (Theater Latté Da, performing in the old Ritz Theater, through Nov 3). They then went down the street for cold beverages and a discussion, which is excerpted herewith.

Janet Preus: Chicago is a very good show. It may not break any new ground stylistically but the music [by John Kander, with lyrics by Fred Ebb] really shines through. The play moves along charmingly. [Director Peter] Rothstein directs with precision and focus and it really works here. To set the play in a 1920s speakeasy was good fun.

John Olive: I agree that the speakeasy idea was a good one, but in practice it bothered me. The set made the play diffused and unfocused and sorta clumsy. In particular, the back wall, with its dozens of small, framed pictures didn’t work as a women’s lockup.

What did you think of the performances?

JP: [As Roxie Hart, Chicago‘s lead] Britta Ollmann is oustanding. She can sing, dance. Her intensity carried the show. Most significantly, her work has emotional resonance: she makes you feel her building sexuality, her frustration at being locked up, her rivalry with Velma, her love/hate relationship with the greedy Mama Morton (an excellent performance by Regina Marie Williams). And as the über-slimy Flynn, Robert O. Berdahl is a hoot.

I was less thrilled with Michelle de Joya [as Velma]. I was looking for her to be tougher, angrier. “More different” than Roxie.

JO: You found her generic?

JP: Too strong a word. De Joya can sing, she has power and presence; her Velma was a little too …mmmm… sweet.

I also wish to register my bewilderment over cross-dressing, specifically the cops. Why? The reporter Mary Sunshine is played by a man, Fernando Collado, who was just excellent. Leave it at that.

JO: In my humble opinion, the best performance in Chicago is turrned in by Reed Sigmund, as Amos.

JP: Absolutely! His song, “Mister Cellophane” is exquisite. It’s an odd song, really, but he gave it such emotional power.

JO: I will always remember his sweet, “Thanks for listening.” Sigmund is a CTC regular and it’s refreshing to see him stretching his artistic wings, at the Jungle and here at Latté Da.

Okay, I have to say this. Latté Da’s Chicago is extremely well done, but I really missed Bob Fosse and his patented nastiness. [In addition to the dances, Fosse created the book for the original production. Fosse died in 1987.] Choreographer Kelli Foster Warder does nice work, “in the style of” Bob Fosse, but the production ends up being Bob Fosse Lite. His dark sexuality would have, in my opinion, served the play better than the speakeasy set. This is the sort of thing that will only bother an old theater fogy like me, but there. I said it.

JP: That makes me an old theater fogy, too.

JO: I don’t know about “old.”

JP: Ollman and Sigmund and, indeed, the whole ensemble make this a play well worth seeing.

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