It's no secret that while the Albuquerque theatre community possesses a robust talent pool, shows can be hit or miss. Lately, it's been hit after hit, and the Albuquerque Little Theatre, with Artistic Director Henry Avery at its helm, has been thriving. Last season at ALT was particularly stellar, and on the musical front, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was superb. ALT's 81st season kicks off with the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago and Avery has hit paydirt by assembling a powehouse cast comprised of some of the best talent Albuquerque has to offer, including some seasoned veterans along with some up-and-coming young talent who will blow your socks off.
For all three of you who haven't seen either the Broadway production or the film version or a community theatre production of Chicago, I'll explain the plot. The show opens with with Roxie Hart, a seemingly dainty flower, shooting her lover who dumps her. She tells her husband Amos to take responsibility because he's sure to get off. Of course, the truth is revealed and fast forward to the Cook County Jail, where Roxie is one of several of the "merry maidens" to be put in the slammer for murder. There she meets Velma Kelly, a circuit performer, who, so far, is the most famous "chicky" in Matron "Mama" Morton's coop. Roxie arrives with all her ambition to become a celebrity, and through enlisting the help of the slick, silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn, manages to outshine a much dismayed Velma. Knowing that her days in the limelight are limited because "that's Chicago," Velma tries to woo Roxie into joining forces for a vaudeville act. Roxie, who is now fully obsessed with her fame and has gotten too big for her britches declines the offer. In a back and forth with Billy about her defense, Roxie concedes to let Billy run the show to help get her off of the murder charges. Roxie quickly learns that fame is an all too fleeting thing when an heiress attracts the media's attention for shooting her lover caught in an act of sexual deviation. In a last-minute effort to regain her newfound fame, Roxie fakes a pregnancy. This, of course, rekindles Billy's interest in her case and the puppet act of her defense ensues. In the end, Roxie finds herself acquitted of murder, only to be upstaged by a bloody murder down the hall. Roxie is left to contemplate life's possibilities, and in her own effort to stay in the public eye, joins forces with Velma for a hit act which closes the show with the fabulous and hopeful ditty "Nowaways."
I had the opportunity to attend Thursday evening's preview performance at ALT. In spite of the "museum piece" staging and choreography, which were almost carbon copies of the 1990s Broadway revival production, which starred Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking as Velma and Roxie, this production, indeed is "great and grand" and will no doubt woo Albuquerque audiences. It was by far the best musical I have seen here in the last two years, and some of the performances were professional house quality. Stephanie Burch as Velma proves why she is easily Albuquerque's best musical theatre performer. She is a true triple threat and her portrayal never lost its luster. Her voice was by far the strongest and her dancing and acting superb. Speaking of voices, one of the biggest delights of the evening was Tahirih Koller who plays Matron "Mama" Morton. Koller has a smooth stage demeanor and sexiness that combined with her rich robust voice made her the perfect Mama. Rebecca Turiciano has a cutesy yet slightly diva-esque way about her onstage, which made her portrayal enjoyable. As Roxie, she proves that she is a very adept actress. Michael Finnegan makes a believably smarmy Billy Flynn and he uses humor to win the audience's admiration. His renditions of "All I Care About" and "We Both Reached for the Gun" were both quite good. Dehron Foster, a permanent installation on the boards at ALT gives a spot-on performance of Amos Hart, a man who always seems to get lost in the shuffle. His sensitivity as an actor makes him soar in any role he plays. O. Benenati Tenorio as Mary Sunshine makes a very interesting addition to the cast. While we're always aware that "she" is a man, Tenorio makes for good comic relief.
The ensemble is an amalgamation of different levels of hot--from the boys to the girls. Lisette Herrera, a ABQ stage veteran looks hot, dances hot and sets the bar for the ensemble, as does Jonathan Ragsdale, who brings the perfect amount of le jazz hot to the production, which is reminiscent of most of the dancers I have seen in the Broadway production at various times. It is also obvious that he is a very capable actor and singer as well and we'll, no doubt, see him on Broadway very soon. Nicole Dozier, just a high school senior, brings a sophistication and sex appeal to her chorus role and cameo during the "Cell Block Tango" that reminds me of a young Lauren Hutton...minus the tooth gap!
From start to finish, Chicago is paced very well. And, while some group musical number endings were, at times, less than precise with both vocals and choreography, undoubtedly, they will be tightened up by the end of the first week of the run. Highlights of the show were "All That Jazz," "The Cell Block Tango," and I especially enjoyed "Class," which gives Stephanie Burch a chance to show the more vulnerable side of Velma Kelly.
This Chicago is a show not to missed. I'm guessing it will sell out, so book early and often to support local theatre. The production runs from September 17 to October 10 at Albuquerque Little Theatre. For more information about the show or to buy tickets, visit http://www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org/.
Watch a promo video HERE!