Terrific is the word for San Jose Stage’s ‘Chicago’

From the very first song to the last, San Jose Stage Company’s production of “Chicago” is absolutely terrific.

It’s a great show to start with, thanks to the catchy music by John Kander, the clever lyrics by Fred Ebb and the quirky characters in the book by Ebb and Bob Fosse.

And then director Randall King has assembled a top-notch cast and design team to create a great theatrical experience.

As the title implies, the story is set in the Windy City in the 1920s, when lurid headlines dominated local newspapers.

When a married chorus girl, Roxie Hart (Monique Hafen Adams), kills her lover, she’s arrested and sent to jail to await trial.

There she gets advice from the matron, “Mama” Morton (Branden Noel Thomas), who sings “When You’re Good to Mama.” Roxie also encounters a potential rival, Velma Kelly (Allison F. Rich).

After that, she hires a slick defense attorney, Billy Flynn (Keith Pinto), who helps her deal with the horde of reporters and photographers eager to hear her story. Among them is sob sister Mary Sunshine (Kyle Bielfield).

Lost in the shuffle is her clueless but loving husband, Amos Hart (Sean Doughty), an auto mechanic.

He has one of the show’s most poignant songs, “Mister Cellophane.” He laments that no one notices him. Even when he moves about the stage, the spotlight doesn’t follow him.

The show opens with the rousing “All That Jazz,” sung by Velma and the ensemble.

Some other show-stoppers are “Cell Block Tango,” sung by Velma and the women’s ensemble; “Razzle Dazzle,” sung by Billy and the company; and “Class,” sung by Velma and “Mama.”

These are just a few, but virtually every song is enjoyable.

Something that distinguishes this production from others that have been seen in the Bay Area, starting with the Broadway touring production in San Francisco in 1978, is that is has few of the elaborate scenic elements that are possible in larger theaters.

No matter. King, along with set designer Robert Pickering and lighting designer Michael Palumbo, keeps things simple, relying on the music and the talented cast to carry the show.

Likewise, Tracey Freeman Shaw’s choreography has the signature movements from Fosse’s original despite the small stage.

Although every principal and cast member deserves accolades, special mention must be made of Rich when her Velma sings, “I Can’t Do It Alone.” Trying to convince Roxie to join her in the act that she and her sister once did, Velma demonstrates athletic, limber moves while singing – quite a feat.

Rich does double duty as the show’s vocal director.

Also noteworthy is the small onstage band led by music director Benjamin Belew from the piano.

In short, this is one great show.

“Chicago” will continue through March 15 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.




About the Author

Judy RichterJudy reviews San Francisco Bay Area theater and writes feature articles about activities of the Stanford women's basketball team and Fast Break Club. A longtime Bay Area journalist, she is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she was a writer and copy editor.View all posts by Judy Richter →