By Stacey Morris
Park Playhouse’s production of “Chicago” plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday evenings through July 30, 2016. “The Little Mermaid” will be performed August 9 through 27. Reserved seats to “Chicago” are $24 for table seating; $16 and $18 for reserved seats, available for purchase online at www.parkplayhouse.com or by calling (518) 434-0776. Lawn seats are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
ALBANY, N.Y. – How is it possible to thoroughly enjoy a play filled with a cast of treacherous, lecherous human beings adrift on a sea of amorality? By mesmerizing the audience with truckloads of charisma, talent, and riveting dance numbers, of course! Such is the formula that is “Chicago,” the Tony-winning play that wowed Broadway when it opened in 1976.
For the month of July, it’s being performed (when Mother Nature cooperates) under a canopy of stars at the city’s revered Park Playhouse in Washington Park, now in its 28th season. Directed by Michael LoPorto, the two-act production of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical opens with the sly declaration: "You are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts."
The line is delivered by Matron Mama Morton, a women’s prison warden perpetually on the take who presides over inmates with an iron fist, and leather riding crop, which she delights in wielding. Molly Rose McGrath is a born scene-stealer when she’s prowls menacingly around the stage belting out numbers such as “When You’re Good to Mama.”
Set in the 1920s, “Chicago” makes no bones about the nefarious nature of the times. There’s bootlegging, adultery, deception, and, of course, murder, all played out with cheeky dialogue and captivating dance routines, courtesy of choreographer AshleySimone Kirchner. Originally produced on Broadway in 1976, “Chicago” presents an unvarnished take on the heartlessness of crime and the petty shallowness of fame. The production is based on a 1926 play by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was inspired by the murder trials she covered for the Chicago Tribune.
Opening the show with the famous “All That Jazz” overture is Vaudeville dancer Velma Kelly, played by Madeleine Corliss. The fast-paced plot follows the misadventures of Velma and co-hort Roxie Hart, who are both cooling their heels in Mama Morton’s jail while awaiting trial for the respective murders they’ve committed. Roxie, played with self-centered ebullience by Katy Corbus, is more concerned with how to capitalize on her rising infamy in the press than she is navigating the legal system. Playing both Roxie and Velma like a fiddle, while he purports to defend the two women, is the slippery attorney Billy Flynn, portrayed with insouciant smoothness by the velvet-voiced Rick Roemer.
Billy Goldstein shines as Roxie’s befuddled and adorably naïve husband, Amos. A study in vulnerability, his memorable lament of “Mr. Cellophane” is a wistful resignation to his station in life. And then there’s the untouchably hilarious K.W. Marshall as the gullible and omnipresent tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine who delights the audience with operatic aplomb in the solo “A Little Bit of Good.”
Glittering costumes, a fleet of talented, Gene Kelly-esque dancers, a superb orchestra, and a three-story set round out the magic of the production. With ticket prices ranging from $24 to free, this is a most reasonable admission for an evening of high-energy show-biz that’ll leave you humming, and perhaps even dancing a little as you exit Washington Park. That was certainly the case on Thursday evening.
Although risqué humor reigns throughout both acts and the playhouse advises that some parents may find some of the content inappropriate for children under the age of 13, Park Playhouse lurches into family-friendly gear with “The Little Mermaid” (Aug. 9-27) and “Seussical” (Aug. 5-7) at The Palace Theatre in Albany, N.Y.
Stacey Morris is an Albany-based writer. Her website is www.staceymorris.com .
Address: Albany, NY, USA