Theater Review: 'Chicago,' The Longest Running American Musical

Aug 22, 2018

Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck is closing its summer theater season with “Chicago,” the longest-running American musical ever to hit Broadway. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says there’s lots of good work in the production along with excellent (and sexy) costumes. But there’s also something missing.

At Matunuck these warm nights they are going all out in this version of “Chicago, an  American musical if there was ever one. A cast of more than 20 is well-drilled and ever so eager to put across the story of a couple of women dancers caught in the midst of 1920s combination __are you ready – of murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery, That’s the long-used description of the work which is still on Broadway.

At Matunuck, the cast flings itself across the stage time after time executing noteworthy high kicks and in-your-face intentions. The songs, from “All That Jazz,” to “Mr. Cellophane” to the ever-rousing “Razzle Dazzle” are put forth with vibrant intentions that have you both smiling and thinking how this can be.

The main female characters Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two young women struggling with both virtue and lack of the same are played with great effort and drive. Michelle Alves is a rocket of a dancer flinging herself everywhere with all the power and drive you could possibly expect,

As the ever put-upon and also ever conniving Roxie Hart Jessica Wockenfuss is someone who makes you laugh, and dislike, all at once.

The male top gun is Matthew J. Taylor who makes Billy Flynn, a big time lawyer who really just acts for himself. He is terrific giving voice to being both a cheating devil and caring guy.

Others, especially, Tarra Conner Jones as the jail matron who cares for Velma and Roxie, when she’s not nailing every buck she can from them, is sweet, and hilarious, despite hersteal-it-all way of looking at things.

And the chorus is just fine, making the most of their min able costumes. and they dance in the real Broadway way.

So, what’s the problem? Well, its hard to spell out. One thing, I think, is that “Chicago” a full time Broadway standard, is a just plain great big thing of stage power.

It needs, must have, room to romp and roll and drive. And for all it’s goodness and longtime existence seeing it go from a barn to a beloved performing space, Theatre by the Sea is just too small for the great, roughhouse drive in a play concerning a Big Town in a tough time.

Director Bob Richard and choreographer Diane Laurenson have gone all out to place this huge and powerful production on the small stage. “Chicago” after all is a big town, a place where you need room and action. It can’t be cramped.

And, yet, this production at Theater by the Sea does it’s best giving a cared view of a great musical. So, even with its smallness, this “Chicago” remains something worth seeing. It’s as American as a big town, and a big problem. Stick with it.

“Chicago” is at Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck through September 9th. Bill Gale review the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.