It’s a really good thing “Chicago” is the first production of the summer season at Timber Lake Playhouse because this show is much too hot for August. Bring along some pocket change and take advantage of the theater’s concession stand because you’re gonna need some cooling down during intermission.
For those of you who have not yet visited this local entertainment jewel, Timber Lake Playhouse is a wide-open theater boasting a substantial stage down in front of the audience. This really opens up the options for staging and set design.
Artistic Director James Beaudry takes advantage of all those options to the audiences’ pure delight. From the moment you enter the theater, the smoky purple atmosphere immerses you in its dingy bar room feelings of lusty despair and dwindling hope.
Andrea Leach opens the show heading up the signature number, “All That Jazz.” From the moment this petite redhead hits the stage as Velma Kelly, she commands everyone’s attention and deservedly so. You simply cannot take your eyes off her.
In light of that, I had some reviewer sympathy for Jenny Guse who plays Roxie Hart and whose initial presentation to the audience isn’t nearly as sexy and scorching as Velma’s. Her character is unsympathetic; drunk and loose, she eventually shoots and kills her lover as he leaves her.
However, as the show unfolds, Guse takes advantage of the opportunities to show off her “acting chops.” By the time she joins Leach for their show stopper “Hot Honey Rag,” we all know exactly why this actress got the lead role. Wow!
The sexiest number in the show — without a doubt — is “Cell Block Tango.” Now some of you “Chicago” devotees may be thinking sarcastically that here, I am stating the obvious.
But I tell you the unique staging on this production is a cross somewhere between Cell Block #9 and several interesting window displays in the red light district neighborhood of Amsterdam. Ooo la la! I bestow generous kudos to all the ladies heating up the stage during this one.
As Billie Flynn, Philip Black is slimingly perfect — his voice ideal for the strong vocals required from a singing heartthrob of the 1930s. I thought his performance was so effortlessly strong in this part; it’s unlikely audience members will fully appreciate Black’s skill until they see him in another role.
Amos Hart, played by Jay Ellis, is a sympathetic character anyway but Ellis really makes us care. He does a great rendition of my favorite song in this musical, “Mr. Cellophane,” and elicits genuine sympathy from the audience.
Matron Mama Morton can be a really colorful character, but is played more subtly by Samantha Barboza. When Mama starts “Singin’” watch out! Barboza can really belt it out.
Finally, you can’t help but be partial to whoever plays Mary Sunshine in this musical; that character is such a hoot. In this case, Missy Gail does not fail to deliver. I want to see Gail over and over again.
And this review would not be complete without mentioning The Boys in the background. I couldn’t get enough of them either.
In fact, I could see this production again with no hesitation, which is what you want when you buy theater tickets. Take family and friends — no youngsters though — and bring along a cool rag because this show really does sizzle.
See you at the theater!
Jami Smith is our local theater reviewer and sales representative at the Clinton Herald. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.