Dark Horse Theatre Company
"CHICAGO," Dark Horse Theatre Company, Egyptian Theatre, through July 29, $30-$60, 435-649-9371 or egyptiantheatrecompany.org
PARK CITY — If you've heard the term "concept musical" and were intrigued, the Dark Horse Theatre Company can have a ticket waiting for you at the Egyptian Theatre's will-call window.
Difficult to define with exactness, a concept musical can be called the flip side of the book musical: The plot is secondary in importance to the presentation. A collaboration of director-choreographer Bob Fosse and composers Fred Ebb and John Kander, "Chicago" takes on the form of what it criticizes. The 1975 Broadway satire casts a vaudeville spotlight on media frenzy that makes celebrities out of criminals and the desperate need for fame at any cost. (For a recent reference, think Paris Hilton and the Kardashians.)
But overanalyzing "Chicago" might limit the joy it is to see a fine production on stage.
Dark Horse's "Chicago" smolders with gleeful, red-hot performances. The show is robust with style, wit, sass — and all that jazz.
Director Anne Stewart Mark knows the tawdry-tangy nature of "Chicago," and from the first wah-wah-wah trumpet solo, the audience is impressed and roars back its enjoyment. Her talented players aim for the heart of their characters, and then hit the bull's-eye with the same petite handguns used by flapper assassins Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
You cannot pull off "Chicago" without strong singer-actor-dancers in the Velma and Roxie roles, and Erin Royal Carlson and Ginger Bess play the unrepentant murderesses — "Chicago's own killer dillers," as the emcee announces — with sardonic relish. Carlson's Velma is on target with her sly vamp, and Bess has all of Roxie's kittenish innocence. As Roxie's almost-invisible husband Amos, Andrew Nadon is shattering with quiet desperation.
As in her other performances, Camille Van Wagoner as Matron Morton owns the stage. In "When You're Good to Mama," Van Wagoner is both devilish and delightful. While a pleasing actor, Kim Blackett lacks the tenacity to fully characterize sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn. Adding levity is Eric Brotherson's Mary Sunshine.
The tantalizing showpiece "Cell Block Tango" is staged with authority by choreographer William Richardson (who also stands out as Fred Casely). Lacking the razor-sharp precision of Fosse dancing (that takes years to even approximate), the hard-working ensemble and dancing leads are nevertheless electrifying.
The onstage, nine-piece (if I'm counting correctly) orchestra under the direction of Anne Puzey wails like a Jazz Age honky-tonk band that includes violin, trumpets, trombone, woodwinds and bass. Accompanying the singers, the live musicians are another reason to see "Chicago" and hear the assemblage of Kander and Ebb's stylish songs — "All That Jazz," "Mr. Cellophane," "Nowadays" and "Razzle Dazzle."
To quote a "Chicago" lyric: "Grand, isn't it? / Great, isn't it? / Swell, isn't it? / Fun, isn't it?" Like leaving behind the stifling summer heat of the Salt Lake Valley and traveling to the welcome cool breeze of Park City, "Chicago" is an anecdote to the blandness of "safe" theater.
It should be noted that as designed, "Chicago" has skimpy costuming, bawdy dancing and sexual suggestion, but alongside content nationally broadcast on TV, the show appears less risque.
Content advisory: sexual references, profanities
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