Critique: Theatre Aspen roars into 38th period with exuberant creation of ‘Chicago’

Couple of industries have been more difficult hit by the pandemic than the carrying out arts, and none a lot more so than the theater. Theater requirements a are living viewers for survival the way a deep-sea diver demands an oxygen tank. So when the curtain went up Thursday night on “Chicago: the Musical” — launching Theatre Aspen’s 38th year — it was as if 15 months of bottled-up expertise, enthusiasm and longing all came speeding out in a single big jubilant wave. For the future 100 minutes (the show runs sans intermission) a rapt, audibly gleeful audience was swept aloft by this air-limited manufacturing of Broadway’s iconic, Tony Award-profitable musical.

In terms of sheer leisure value, there’s little not to adore about “Chicago,” and kudos to Theatre Aspen developing director Jed Bernstein for christening the return to new regular with it. Based mostly on a handful of actual murders by females and the media circus they generated, the story is established in 1920s prohibition-era Chicago rife with flappers and floozies, shysters and shakedowns. Corruption abounds, movie star reigns supreme and in the court docket of general public opinion he/she/they who make the most sound wins. Fold in some burlesque and a jazz-hands-aflutter leggy ensemble going to Bob Fosse’s steamy choreography and it is quick to see why “Chicago” holds the file as Broadway’s longest-operating musical.

The story follows the plight of Roxie (Julie Kavanagh returning for her 3rd Theatre Aspen year), an attention-starved, wannabe vaudevillian who shoots her lover dead for trying to break up with her. Roxie’s impulsiveness lands her in Cook County Jail the place she meets Velma (Jessica Crouch in her Theatre Aspen debut), burlesque star, two-time killer and Chicago press corps darling. The women turn out to be instant arch-rivals vying for headlines and public sympathy. The zeitgeist of the working day suggests trials are gained or lost based mostly not on evidence but on general public feeling. As Roxie’s ethically challenged attorney Billy Flynn (a suitably slick Nathan Cockroft) afterwards demonstrates: Management the narrative and you regulate the end result.

(A hundred a long time later, it’s not possible not to link the dots to today’s celebrity-obsessed, information-as-leisure political climate.)

In addition to a consummate solid of triple-threats, what helps make this output soar is veteran Theatre Aspen director/choreographer Mark Martino’s meticulous staging and drum-limited pacing.

Curiously, the action all requires spot on a proscenium phase, when Theatre Aspen’s intimate venue by natural means lends itself to a ¾ thrust phase (an arrangement in which the viewers surrounds the motion on three sides). 1 can only surmise the final decision was a pandemic-pushed effort and hard work to keep distance in between actors and viewers rehearsals would have started months back when social distancing and mask mandates were nonetheless in flux. Irrespective, aided by the dynamic scenic and lighting structure of David L. Arsenault and Gifford Williams, respectively, the clearly show is visually pleasing and all the more remarkable for the inherent staging constraints.

Under Eric Alsford’s music way and superb are living accompaniment from the offstage band, quantity soon after variety — 20 songs in all — sizzled and popped, sizzling as an egg on a modern Portland sidewalk.

Opening night’s already large wattage cranked up a notch in scene a few with the entrance of Galyana Castillo. As Matron “Mama” Morton, Castillo planted a flag and took command of the phase belting out, “When You are Very good to Mama.” Other standouts integrated the hot “Cell Block Tango” and “We Equally Attained for the Gun,” in which Roxie, perched on her speedy-speaking lawyer Billy Flynn’s knee, performs dummy to Flynn’s ventriloquist. It’s a tricky scene requiring razor-sharp reactions — and Kavanagh and Cockroft nailed it. Martino’s amusing marionette-ish choreography and the ensemble’s impeccable timing drew hoots of approval from the property.

Jayke Workman deserves specific point out as Mary Sunshine, the Chicago Tribune reporter who can help stir public support for our villainous vixens. Workman’s shock-packed performance knocks it out of Wrigley Field.

Ben Liebert is similarly unforgettable as Roxie’s downtrodden husband Amos Hart. Liebert (previously observed in Theatre Aspen’s “Avenue Q” and “The Full Monty”) manages that uncommon trick in musical theater: authentic psychological honesty. He will take a stock character — in this scenario the earnest sad sack — and renders him not just believable but achingly human, as evidenced in the tender showstopper “Cellophane.” In addition, he has the chops of a leading-notch tune and dance man.

The penultimate amount “Nowadays/Incredibly hot Honey Rag” finds former rivals Roxie and Velma unveiled from prison. Owning narrowly escaped loss of life by hanging (the period’s favored method of execution), they are dismayed to find out public consideration has shifted to newer, juicier scandals. Their 15 minutes of media-frenzy fame have light into the footlights. The two make your mind up to forged apart their grievances and be part of forces on the vaudeville circuit. This plot reversal would have been far more fulfilling experienced the enmity among the guide figures been a lot more thoroughly made early in the display. As it was, the tale arc fell a tad flat.

But none of that diminishes the actuality that Theatre Aspen’s “Chicago” provides an night of pure pizzazz and unalloyed entertainment.

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