Monday, September 14, 2015

reviews - CHICAGO - Phoenix Theatre

Jenny Hintze and Kate E. Cook
Photo: Erin Evangeline /Phoenix Theatre
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 4th.

"... if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket for the Phoenix Theatre production (of Chicago) that began its 2015-16 season this past weekend, you’ll be seeing one of the most accomplished local musical productions ever staged in the valley...the musical was always a darkly staged affair making things appear practically black and white. ...this Phoenix Theatre production is an eye-catching, often colorful affair...the whole production moves as slick as a Bob Fosse signature slide step.  The ensemble cast, full of locally recognizable faces who together perform Sam Hay’s demanding choreography in the spirit of Fosse, are sharp, disciplined and in-your-face.  Backed by Alan Ruch’s customary tight musical direction, almost every song and dance is an aggressive showstopper...under the watchful eye of Michael Barnard – who clearly loves musical theatre with a passion – there are times when you want the show to stop, go back and do it again....There are great numbers throughout, but "All That Jazz" and "Cell Block Tango" are the standouts, and if the show’s book suffers from anything it’s that they both appear within the first fifteen minutes of the production...Walter Belcher’s enigmatic lawyer Billy Flynn...is played with just a hint of menace.  ...Terey Summers nicely evokes the spirit of the legendary Sophie Tucker as Mama Morton upon whom the role was based, while Brian Runbeck’s solo Mister Cellophane...manages to instill a real sense of sympathy for the sad sack of a husband...But the success of Chicago will always boil down to the casting of its two leads, Roxie and Velma.  As Roxie, long-legged Kate E. Cook fully embraces the chance she’s been given to shine, which she does, brighter than those marquee bulbs hovering above throughout the show.  With her high kicks, those sensuous moves and a natural comedic talent, Kate is exactly what you want Roxie to be...As for Jenny Hintze as Velma..you’re not going to forget her.  Jenny is among those local performers we’ve seen continually deliver great work not only at Phoenix Theatre but at other theatres around the valley, yet with each new production her talent develops that little bit more...Going forward, once you’re told Jenny is in a production, you know it’ll be something you’ll want to see. For Chicago, Phoenix has upped the musical theatre game, again.  The challenge is on. Other theatres in the city need to keep pace.  It won’t be easy. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

It isn't often that you can say you were there when "a star was born." Yet that's just what is happening right now at the Phoenix Theatre. After years of playing featured or ensemble roles across the Valley, Kate E. Cook steps up to play the lead as Roxie Hart in Phoenix Theatre's smashing production of Chicago, her first starring role at Phoenix's oldest professional theatre company. Cook is so absolutely perfect in the part, and Michael Barnard's succinct direction so exceptional, that any fan of this show will be overjoyed at the experience of seeing the classic musical presented in this fresh, vibrant production.  Chicago tells the story of two murderesses in 1920s Chicago and is a satirical fantasy on the scandal of that period and the glorified celebrity that was the result of these sensationalized criminals. Roxie Hart...(and)...Velma Kelly.. battle with each other to keep their cases, and names, in the spotlight, and together Velma and Roxie depend on Matron "Mama" Morton and lawyer Billy Flynn to not only help them fool the media into believing they are innocent, but also in, hopefully, getting them off. As Mama says, "In Chicago, murder is a form of entertainment" and songwriting duo John Kander and Fred Ebb brilliantly use a virtual non-stop parade of vaudeville style show-stopping tunes to portray and comment on the inner thoughts of the characters.  Cook gives Roxie the right balance of warmth, vulnerability, and charm set against the shrewd knowledge of what she needs to do to get her way. I've seen previous actresses portray Roxie as a simpleton, yet Cook's decision to portray her as cunning, and even all-knowing, brings the role to life and makes Roxie a vibrant character with multiple layers. She also gives a clear spontaneity to her line readings that makes the comic ones zing and her touching moments sincere, and even downright heartbreaking when she realizes she actually may be found guilty. Cook's delivery of her many songs is vibrant, with perfect, powerful, and soaring vocals combined with non-stop, thrilling dance moves. Cook makes you root for her Roxie, even though you know she is guilty of murder, and that alone says a lot. Cook is a stellar triple threat.  Jenny Hintze...is very good at showing Velma's constant fight to make herself a star. She dances up a storm, while belting her numbers out, including delivering an exceptional, powerful version of the show's best known song, "All That Jazz." ... Director Michael Barnard sets the show firmly in the colorful, razzle-dazzle vaudeville world of the 1920s. His direction of the cast is exceptional and he keeps the show moving at a fast clip...While the original Broadway production and the revival both used Bob Fosse's choreography, choreographer Sam Hay has come up with a number of styles which occasionally hint at but don't appear to actually copy Fosse's steps...His "Me and My Baby" is exceptional and his choreography for "Roxie" includes some splendidly fluid acrobatic lifts. ...Phoenix Theatre's Chicago is a thrilling, sharp and sexy production, brought to life by Kate E. Cook's stunning and exceptional star tune as Roxie, Michael Barnard's superb direction, Hay's vibrant and varied choreography, and some striking creative elements. If you've only seen the revival version of the musical or if you've never seen this show, you owe it to yourself to see Phoenix Theatre's simply sublime Chicago-Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Phoenix Theatre last night opened a sensational production of "Chicago" ...Full of abandon and excess... and delivered, a fabulously fresh version in order to impress. ...Velma Kelly, seductively played by Jenny Hintze, ...and her ensemble, through Sam Hay's dynamic choreography and superbly whispery jazz vocals, did Bob Fosse proud. ...it's hard not to wince at the dark humor that radiates from "Chicago." To know that the two murderesses on which the story is based truly lived and truly murdered and were truly glamorized by the press only adds to the macabre weight....Director Michael Barnard headed a creative team and cast with at least two overriding and extremely wise themes. Fun and fragility. Though evident throughout, those two directives shone best, respectively, in Walter Belcher as Billy Flynn and Kate E. Cook as Roxie Hart....Belcher created a new breed of Billy Flynn...greedy and money-centered, but likable...He was less sickeningly slick and plastic, just more fun loving. ...Kate E. Cook wasn't just a near flawless Roxie Hart. With a silky Marilyn Monroe feel, her breathy, chesty vocals and the power to belt, coupled with impeccably natural, red-hot dancing were only part of her endless allure. The magnetic pull that Cook's Hart attracted reached deeper, beneath the polished veneer....Cook allowed moments of purity to bleed through. Phoenix Theatre's Roxie dared to be scared, to expose her juvenile disappointments and selfish fears. And we felt each stab of that searing, guilty fright with her...Roxie's concluding scene and her final duet with Velma was sheer genius on Barnard's part. Rarely does that scene get at the truth and tell on its glittering, sequined self the way it did last night. First, Cook's veiled vulnerability was seeping out between finely tailored cracks in her saucy, fearless character. Next, the orchestra reached a frenzied tempo championed by Musical Director Alan Ruch. Feeling like the artificial high granted by a drug overdose, the scene captured all the false glamour that the fantastic evening of gratuitous booze and sex and murder had offered....With just a hint of the sardonic, Kelly and Hart closed the show with their famous rhetorical lines that masterfully left us wondering, truly, how the two seductresses who seemed to have gotten away with murder might answer.... 'It's good, isn't it? Grand, isn't it? Fun, isn't it?' Certainly, Phoenix Theatre's "Chicago" is." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"Phoenix Theatre got rave reviews for its 2003 production of “Chicago,” so instead of going back to the drawing board, artistic director Michael Barnard has done his best to re-create that success in his latest revival. ...The main ingredient is a fabulous Art Deco set...built around a trio of turntables and a matching pair of sinuous staircases...the design is a dynamic playground for the director to invent dramatic entrances and for choreographer Sam Hay to dream up various slinky, kinky visions.
.. “Chicago,” the Kander and Ebb musical..was inspired by a series of real-life murder trials in the Windy City in the 1920s, when a string of attractive young women were acquitted of some grisly deeds by all-male juries....something in between a satire and a celebration of America’s tabloid culture, with the public eye flitting to the latest lurid scandal, turning evildoers into celebrities — at least for their allotted 15 minutes...Kate E. Cook singlehandedly seals the deal with her brassy turn as Roxie Hart...Cook is a knockout....Jenny Hintze, who plays Roxie’s jailhouse frenemy, vaudeville performer Velma Kelly... is a talented triple threat ...but her sweet, girl-next-door vibe isn’t a good fit for the haughty, jaded Velma.... the casting overall is sharp...This is one musical that’s packed with memorable showstoppers...No matter how misguided, Roxie’s longing for significance — to matter — is the one fully human moment in a show that revels in artifice. Cook, the hands-down star of this production, seizes the moment and makes it her own."  Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"...CHICAGO, the Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb musical that forty years after its premiere still vibrates with all that jazz...Fosse's dark satire, dressed in razzmatazz, of the hypocrisy in a system that glorifies corruption and makes celebrities out of criminals...Honing the cutting edge of this opus and retaining its relevance, entertaining the audience while forcing its discomfort, is the artistic director's great challenge. Phoenix Theatre's Season-opening production of CHICAGO, meets this challenge half-way. It is all flash without the fire. Great flash, for sure, reflecting the brilliance and showmanship of Michael Barnard...He has gathered a storm of production quality: Alan Ruch's literally uplifting music; Kelly Yurko's deliciously sexy and vintage costumes; Greg Jaye's and Joel Birch's elegant set design; Mike Eddy's complementary and subtle lighting; and Sam Hay's kickass choreography performed by a very hot ensemble.  The fire of the satire, however, is overshadowed if not dowsed by the spectacle. ......(as) Roxie Hart...Kate E. Cook occupies the role with vitality. Her song and dance chops are undeniable, but she misses the boat on character development, on revealing the nuances and transitions that are pivotal to Fosse's vision and to her relations with the other characters. Jenny Hintze is perfect as Velma, embodying her role with panache and believability ...Hintze is a magnetic on-stage presence.  Likewise, Terey Summers' portrayal of Mama Morton, the jail matron is superb. ... I have no doubt that audiences will love the performance and the richly-talented cast. The question is whether they'll leave the theatre with Fosse's message and an appropriate level of discomfort about the condition we're in."  -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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