Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Palo Alto Players: Chicago

Left to right: Elizabeth Santana, Janelle LaSalle. Photo courtesy Palo Alto Players.

Chicago occupies a space alongside Cabaret as one of the best musicals of Kander and Ebb’s storied career. More light-hearted and macabre than its sister show, Chicago ties together satire of American celebrity criminals, the transitory nature of fame, and the excesses of the Roaring Twenties with a ragtime bow. Palo Alto Players’ version, under the direction of Jamie Scott, employs a talented vocal cast and gutsy choreography to create a Chicago that is dark, sexy, and most of all, entertaining.

Janelle LaSalle stars as literal femme fatale Velma Kelly, becoming more and more distraught as newcomer Roxie Hart (Elizabeth Santana) steals her chance at the spotlight. If Roxie is the dramatic heart of the show, Velma is the comedic; LaSalle plays her with a delightful vindictive streak. As unfortunate as her circumstances have become, LaSalle convinces us that Velma Kelly is not to be pitied.

Billy Flynn, a sleazy lawyer and male lead of the show, is one of the pivotal roles of the show. In this production, he is performed by Michael Monagle, a former corporate attorney who returns to the stage after a 20-year hiatus. Despite two decades away from the stage, Monagle doesn’t miss a beat as he grandstands and flim-flams with flair to match Flynn’s gigantic ego. Combined with frequent costume changes and elaborate choreography, Monagle’s acting demonstrates that Flynn has risen from the dirty world of celebrity crime to pull the strings from behind the scenes.

In a cast brimming with excellent vocalists, the best among them has to be Jennifer Taylor Daniels, a Santa Cruz jazz/blues vocalist who plays the part of capitalistic prison ringleader Matron “Mama” Morton. Though, sadly, she only gets two numbers, she displays an impressive acting range within them: A powerful matriarch in “When You’re Good to Mama” and a dejected colleague to Velma in “Class.” Daniels’ comedic skills and belting ability make her the perfect fit for Mama Morton.

The set, designed by Patrick Klein and lit by Nicholas Kumamoto, features a lavish stairway set common to early 20th-century variety shows, braced by rows of prison cells. Kumamoto’s lighting makes frequent use of spotlights upon the dreary, gray set, adding subtle splashes of color and playing into the themes of dramatic ego present in the musical. This set gives the impression of location and time without being too specific, complimenting Chicago’s lean script and winking acknowledgement that it’s a show.

Palo Alto Players’ Chicago represents the theatre group’s ambition as a community theatre. Not content to take the obvious routes when producing crowd-favorite musicals, Palo Alto Players takes artistic risks and makes bold statements. Combined with intelligent set design and a well-chosen cast, Chicago is a must-see production. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.