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The Fulton’s “Chicago” is a smash hit spectacle

Jessica Lee Goldyn with the cast of "Chicago" (Photo courtesy of Fulton Theatre).

Josh Rittberg

Arts and Culture Editor

   As soon as audiences enter The Fulton Theatre for Chicago they are immediately struck by the opera houses’ brightly red lamps. The choice to make the theatre lights red for this particular show instantly brings to mind themes of danger and seduction, two themes that are always near and dear at the heart of this production.

        Chicago tells the scandalous tale of two rival vaudeville performers Roxie Hart (Jessica Lee Goldyn) & Velma Kelly (Heather Parcells). Roxie ends up in the Cook County Jail for murdering a man she had an affair with. In the jail, she gets acquainted with the boisterous Matron Mama Morton (Tarra Conner Jones) and the slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Travis Taylor). When the musical first begins, Velma is the queen of the prison with the entire Cook County at her fingertips. Roxie’s story of betrayal to her husband Amos (Randall Frizado), and her innocent façade catches the eye of Mama Morton and Billy Flynn. As her star rises in the Chicago crime world, Velma decides to lash back and flip the odds back in her favor.

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         Goldyn is absolutely ravishing as Roxie. She dances Marc Robins’ Fosse influenced choreography with true flare and pizazz. As she kicks up her marvelous legs with the sensual chorus boys in the showstopper “Roxie,” she simply dazzles with an irreplaceable star quality. Along with being a fabulous dancer and mover, Goldyn also sings the classic score by Kander and Ebb with excitement and flair. She is a true triple threat, although it is in the acting where she surprises and astounds the most. In the number “We Both Reached for The Gun”, Roxie is literally the puppet in Billy Flynn’s press game. She astounds with a vivid interpretation of the role in this number and throughout the evening.

        Parcells matches Goldyn’s electric energy perfectly with her spirited take on Velma Kelly.  Opening the show with a literal bang in the sizzling hot opener, “All That Jazz”, Parcells astounds with a dynamic energy that almost begs for the audience’s’ attention. This is especially appropriate for a character who constantly strives to be the center of her own world. Much in the case of Goldyn, Parcells is a master of the sensual movements that Chicago requires. Her work particularly in the magnetic showstopper, “I Can’t Do It Alone,” is particularly impressive in her sheer athleticism. She also shares wonderful chemistry with Goldyn’s Roxie. When the two come together in the knockout number, “Nowadays” it’s pure theatre magic. Both leads bring an electric energy that carries through the rest of the production.

       The supporting performances elevate the material and bring great depth to these colorful characters.  Travis Taylor brings a suave and classy presence to the slick lawyer Billy Flynn. His novelty number, “All I Care About” is performed by the actor with an old school showmanship. Another stand out is Tarra Conner Jones as the bold Matron Mama Morton. Her number, “When You’re Good to Mama” is a delight, as Jones hams up the stage with the bravado of a vaudeville comedian. Randall Frizado brings a welcome likability and amusing comedic touch to the sad-sack Amos Hart. As Frizado croons the Kander and Ebb classic, “Mr. Cellophane”, he creates an incredibly sympathetic character who is the living embodiment of the nice guy finishing last.

        The ensemble is also very strong and dances Marc Robins’ choreography with wonderful passion. The female ensemble is particularly strong in the “Cell Block Tango.” Although, at times, the relative youth of the ensemble causes some of the numbers to lose a bit of their grandeur.

The direction by Marc Robin is extremely strong and is not afraid to take risks. Instead of going for the more traditional stripped down interpretation of the piece, Robin chooses to create a production that is as full of glitz and glamour as the period where the show is set. Robin is also not afraid to expose the cynicism and deliciously dark humor at the piece’s core.

Adam Koch’s extravagant multilevel set dazzles with a vibrant onstage band, flying jail cells and staircases that even extend to the mezzanine. The dynamic lighting by Paul Black is absolutely remarkable.  From the catching spotlights on the performers in the opening number, to the moody reds that appear in the production number, “Cell Block Tango,” the lighting in this production is a character in and of itself.  The same could be said for Ryan J. Moller’s inspired costumes. Particularly dazzling costumes include the Marilyn Monroe influenced white dresses for “All I Care About” and the extravagant Ziegfeld Follies headpieces and gowns for the ensemble in the song, “Razzle Dazzle.” Moller has a field day creating these gorgeous pieces. Every sequin and piece of glitter provides spectacle but also further supports the bold vision of Marc Robin.

With absolutely lovely performances, dazzling choreography, and inspired direction, this is a true musical theatre spectacle. Although, not for everyone, this is also a production not afraid to take risks and bring new life into this classic musical. Chicago marks itself as an early season high point for The Fulton, and one that serves as a thrillingly immersive escape from the cold winters.