As the song goes, "The name on everybody's lips is gonna be Roxie," and with Angie Schworer's masterful performance as dumb mechanic's wife-jazz baby-murderess Roxie Hart, she certainly earns top billing in Reagle Music Theatre's production of the Kander and Ebb musical comedy Chicago.
But even with all this cute blonde chorine's charms, it's two redheads that nearly steal the show.
This "Chicago", focusing on the Roaring Twenties' giddy combination of tabloid celebrity and jazz of that city, is the gloriously stripped down revival version that's been playing on Broadway since 1996. Directed and choreographed at Reagle by Gerry McIntyre (in the style of Bob Fosse), this "Chicago" just needs a few black chairs, feathered fans, a hot band (lead by Jeremy Fenn-Smith with music direction by Dan Rodriguez), and a lot of lithe bodies to weave its magic.
The Reagle cast is up to the challenge, sizzling in numbers like "The Cell Block Tango" and "Razzle Dazzle", this last lead by Rick Pessagno, smooth as silk as lawyer Billy Flynn. When the dancing is tight it's a joy, which is why when it's off, the dancers not quite achieving unison or not executing crisply enough, it's a disappointment, as in some moments in the opening "All that Jazz" or, unfortunately, in the big finale dance "Hot Honey Rag".
But the rest of the show is so damn good that it overshadows any small problems. The whole cast is peopled with triple threats, but Schworer as Roxie is working on another level. From her stellar vocals in "Funny Honey" to her perfectly Fosse dancing in "Me and My Baby" (ably backed by Jamal Rashann Callender and Major Nesby), she’s actually at her best when neither singing nor dancing. Her endearingly goofy take on the monologue leading into the eponymous "Roxie" is fresh and funny, and the rat-a-tat two-hander she and Pessagno engage in in at Roxie’s trial is a giddy delight.
Sara Gettelfinger, as Roxie’s rival for tabloid and vaudeville fame Velma Kelly, doesn’t shine quite as brightly, seeming to suffer from some vocal problems at times and never really blending in her duets with Schworer. She fares much better performing with Maryann Zschau at Matron "Mama" Morton on "Class", an ode to better manners of days gone by sung by two bawdy broads.
Zschau comes close to stealing the show, from her entrance in the audience for "When You’re Good to Mama". She’s in fine voice and broadly comedic without being caricatured, no mean feat. However, she doesn’t steal the show, instead another auburn-haired dame walks off with it.
Peter Mill as newspaper sob sister Mary Sunshine is an unparalleled hoot, all jaw-dropping high notes, fluttery hand gestures and refined swooning. Mill’s flirting with Pessagno’s Flynn is a bit of unscripted fun that could have made for a passing chuckle, but Mill makes it into a bit that nearly deserves its own show.
This "Chicago" revival and Reagle’s crackling production of it is pretty much the perfect musical comedy, as brilliant in its belly laugh scenes as it is for its classic but modern-feeling songs and dances. If you’ve never seen it, it’s required viewing, and if you have experienced its joys, Reagle’s production means it’s time to go again.
Chicago continues through June 23 at the Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham. For more info you can go to the show’s website.