It’s no small task to pull off one of Broadway’s best and sexiest musicals of all time, but Bard to Broadway’s Chicago is an exciting and at times powerhouse production.
A story of jazz, sex, murder and fame in 1920s Chicago, the audience follows vaudevillian Velma Kelly and chorus girl Roxie Hart as they lawyer up after committing some sensational murders, but discover a taste for pre-trial fame along the way.
B2B brings together a raft of strong and well-choreographed dancers, a selection of impressive to amazing singers, and some delightful actors to tell the tale.
Kelly is played by Susan Bradshaw (barely recognizable in straight black hair) who does well to perform the role’s singing and dancing parts, but shines with condescension while delivering dialogue, segueing to pouting primadona later on.
The role of Hart is played by Sarah Lane who lends a strong voice and acting chops to the part. Lane is at the top of her game when she sings of Roxie’s desire to start her own vaudeville act and have boys in it, releasing some gleefully girlish squeaks and squeals.
Kelly and Hart’s shark of a lawyer, Billy Flynn, is played by Ian Morton, who surprises with his singing ability (and covers up well when a note or two appear to exceed his range). His entrance as a doddering, out-of-place seeming lawyer who’s nonetheless wanted by all the ladies and who only cares about love is wonderful. Following that, his immediate descent into his character’s true nature is equally entertaining.
The role of Matron “Mama” Morton went to Marilyn Holt. Her body awareness translates to some very sexy body rolls and hip action, while her singing prowess gets a great feature in her opening number.
The ensemble is just as much a star of the show as the main cast members, with a multitude of women and several men succeeding in their dancing, singing and acting part.
As a group, they deliver some grand, sizzling and in-sync choreopgraphy, which is sorely needed in any successful production of Chicago.
Choreographer Juli Ann Booker and assistant choreographer Jessica Atkinson have done a fantastic job.
The musical benefitted from a live eight-person band performing alongside the show. The group was splendid in lending some musical tension and high energy to the production. Though there were a few moments where singers appeared to struggle to be heard above the band, much of that seemed due to some early mic malfunctions that appeared to have been dealt with by the end of intermission.
Chicago is a demanding production that requires multiple triple-threats. While it’s clear that each performer has their strengths (some of the choreography is notably simpler at times), the very best in singing must have come from Jamie Jepson, who plays bleeding heart reporter Mary Sunshine.
Though Jepson gets few opportunities to really let loose, her opening song stunned the audience with her soaring classical vocal abilities.
Oh, and I almost forgot. A nod must also be given to Daniel Bailey who plays the purposefully unmemorable Amos Hart (husband to Roxie). He plays a perfectly convincing sap and surprises with his vocal performance in Mr. Cellophane, describing just how forgettable his character is.
While organizers of Bard to Broadway were thrilled to get the rights to Chicago, setting up such a production was a tall order. And, though it’s by no means perfect, the production is an astounding bit of work that features some fantastic talent and succeeds in delivering a thoroughly entertaining ride.
The cast was greeted with a sold out show on opening night Saturday, July 7. With rounds of applause after nearly every scene, much of the audience was one its feet by the end of the show.
The cast and crew will no doubt look to continue that trend during performances that continue into mid August.
For a full schedule and to by tickets, go to b2btheatre.com/performance-schedule.