EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! SENSATIONAL SUMMER SEASON STILL SIZZLES AS SCANDALOUS TRIAL OF SEXY CELLBLOCK SWEETHEARTS SPELLBINDS SEASIDE TOWN.
Summer may be winding to a close here in Maine, but temperatures are still soaring at the Ogunquit Playouse. The theater is rounding out its 78th season with a headline-grabbing run of “Chicago” that razzle-dazzles with jazzy vaudeville-inspired musical numbers and killer choreography.
The musical is a jazzed-up retelling, loosely based on Chicago Tribune journalist Maurine Watkins’ coverage of the 1924 trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, the real-life murderesses who inspired the characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. Despite Prohibition, speakeasies and corruption were prevalent and Chicago readers reveled in the sensationlized reports of the two “jazz babies.”
Two years later, disillusioned by the newspaper business, Watkins crafted the play “Chicago,” humorously exposing the corruption of the press and the judicial system.
The play has undergone its share of reworkings since debuting on Broadway in 1926, with various movie adaptations and its transformation into a musical in the 1970s. Ogunquit’s latest rendition is all that jazz and more. It’s hot, hot, hot!
Lean, muscular dancers are scantily clad in black leather and sexy nylons, with a dash of red to underscore the characters’ murderous deeds. Their bodies suggestively move in sync, with emphasized hip-thrusts and mime-like hand articulation that are a steamy tribute to vaudeville and the popular dances of the 1920s.
The production delivers an edgy take on the hit musical, bringing out the dark side of its characters, along with the humor. In “Cell Block Tango,” Velma and her fellow cellblock vixens venomously relay their darkly humorous tales of murder and woe.
Rachelle Rak is sensational as Velma Kelly. Her powerful, sassy vocals and agile, cat-like physique are tailor-made for the role of the seductive vaudeville performer. She is nicely paired with Broadway veteran Angie Schworer as the publicity-seeking Roxie Hart. Schworer artfully plays up the dumb blonde routine, all the while showcasing her character’s savvy nature.
Tony Award winner Paul Kreppel plays the role of Roxie’s husband, Amos, to pathetic perfection.
George Dvorsky stars as the pair’s self-serving lawyer, Billy Flynn. Dvorsky looks and sounds like he stepped off the silver screen, with dashing good looks and a buttery smooth voice that are ideal for the role of Flynn.
Topping off the bill is the always-entertaining Sally Struthers as Matron “Mama” Morton. The television and screen star is a definite crowd pleaser from the moment she appears, performing “When You’re Good To Mama.” Struthers revels in interacting with the audience and was clearly having fun playing up her character’s nature Thursday, shamelessly flirting with thrilled audience members.
The cast is packed with talent, including a 12-member ensemble of awe-inspiring dancers and A.W. Marks, who delivers a jaw-dropping performance as Mary Sunshine.
An ever-present eight-piece jazz band, led by Ken Clifton, brings an infectious rhythm to the production. Clifton is a particular treat, providing keyboard accompaniment and serving as the interactive, velvety-voiced announcer. In a nice touch, Clifton introduces the entire cast at the end of the play.
“Chicago” is a high-energy production with top-notch choreography and spirited musical numbers that will leave you dancing long after the band plays its final note.
April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: [email protected]