TR Robertson — The final play for the 2018 summer 38th season for Moonlight Stage Productions, “Chicago”, was a non-stop, energetic, eye pleasing production from start to finish. Co-directed by James Vasquez and Terra C. MacLeod, who also played the shows lead, Roxie Hart, the classic John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse musical exploded on stage with a powerful cast of singers and dancers, unique staging and outstanding orchestration.
“Chicago” opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre in 1977. Fosse was the original choreographer for the musical. The musical is set in the 1920’s Jazz Age of Chicago and is based on a 1926 play by a reporter named Maurine Dallas Watkins writing about accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner on trial in Chicago. “Chicago” had a Broadway Revival in 1996 and currently holds a record as the longest running musical revival and longest running American musical in Broadway history. The musical was nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
The story of “Chicago” revolves around two publicity seeking vaudevillian performers, one in jail and one who will soon be in jail. Roxie is having an affair behind her unknowing husband’s back and ends up killing her lover, landing her in jail with Velma and the girls. Velma, also in jail for murder, has hired a slick lawyer, Billy Flynn, who uses publicity to get his clients off. Roxie meets Velma, as well as “Mama” Morton, and quickly learns what it will take to get herself out of jail. Billy sees an opportunity to use Roxie’s newly acquired fame as an opportunity to win another case. Back and forth Roxie and Velma go, vying for Billy’s help, culminating in Roxie’s trial. Slick Billy pulls out all of the stops, including Roxie’s supposed pregnancy and divorce from her husband Amos. As fate would have it, Velma and Roxie end up together, with their dreams of performing once again fulfilled.
Photos by Ken Jacques
“Chicago” requires tremendous dancers and Moonlight has assembled a talented group for this show. Along with this, the two female leads bring great voices, a moxy attitude and incredible dancing shown throughout the musical. Terra C. MacLeod plays the two timing Roxie and Roxane Carrasco plays the rough-around-the-edges Velma. Their talent is shown both individually and together in numbers like “Funny Honey”, “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “My Own Best Friend”, “I Know a Girl”, “Hot Honey Rag”. Terra is returning to the Moonlight stage, this time as co-director as well as performer, and having played Velma in previous productions of “Chicago”. Roxane is making her Moonlight debut and has played Velma on Broadway. Playing the slick, sleazy lawyer, Billy Flynn, is David Engel, a Broadway and Moonlight veteran. Billy portrays the publicity seeking lawyer with ease and style and is especially “slick” in his presentation of “Razzle Dazzle”.
Audience favorite Randall Hickman once again returns to the Moonlight Stage, this time as the cuckold husband of Roxie, Amos Hart. Amos loves Roxie regardless of what she has done. My only wish for Randall is that his song, “Mr. Cellophane”, was longer, as this is one of the most touching songs of the musical. Randall is a two-time San Diego Theatre Critics Award winner for Best Actor and you can see why when you watch his timing and presence on stage. His exit at the end of the musical should not be missed. Playing the matron of the jail, “Mama” Morton, is Regina LeVert. She has numerous credits to her resume throughout San Diego County and beyond. Regina’s booming voice stands out in the songs “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class”.
As has been mentioned before, “Chicago” is built around incredible dancing and the cast of dancers assembled for Moonlight. The dancers received two specific “showings”, once as they lined the edge of the stage to start Act II and again with individual introductions by name at the curtain call. The dancers are on stage throughout the show, sitting in chairs on each side of the on-stage orchestra, chairs used at random times in the musical. One dancer in particular should be pointed out, Danielle Airey. Airey plays Hunyak, a Polish immigrant who is, supposedly, wrongly accused of murder, but who is caught in a corrupt system. A long silk cloth descends from the rafters in Act II and Airey performs a short routine high above the stage, ending with a symbolic upside down hanging drop, handled with class, emotion and style.
Vasquez and MacLeod have a talented creative team to assist them with this production. First and foremost Choreographer Corey Wright, along with Lighting Designer Jennifer Edwards, Sound Designer Jim Zadai, Costume Designers Roz Lehman and Renetta Lloyd, Make-up Designer Gabe Nunez, Wig Designer Peter Herman, Properties Designer Bonnie Durben and Stage Manager Stanley D. Cohen. The twelve piece Chicago Band is on stage during the entire musical, sitting in a multi-leveled set and what a sound they put out, led by Musical Director JD Dumas and Conductor Kenneth Gammie.
A special note in the “Chicago” program was in Terra C. MacLeod’s co-director’s statement indicating that MacLeod and Moonlight dedicated the production of “Chicago” to her life partner Rick Pessagno, who was originally scheduled to direct “Chicago”. Unfortunately, earlier this year he passed away.
It has been fifteen years since I have seen a live production of “Chicago”, not counting seeing the movie version. My wife and I saw Patrick Swayze, playing Billy Flynn, in a touring Broadway company of “Chicago” at the Civic Theatre on New Year’s Eve in 2003. The Moonlight Production tops them all. This is another one of those not to be missed shows Moonlight Stage Productions has become famous for producing.
“Chicago” will run until September 29th. For tickets go to www.moonlightstage.com or call 760-724-2110. Next up for Moonlight will be the Moonlight Youth Theatre production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” beginning October 12th.