Lots of bangs, in fact. It was a roaring ‘20s delight as award-winning musical “Chicago” opened the 49th summer season of Timber Lake Playhouse last week.
The musical is a mid’ 70s production of iconic choreographer Bob Fosse who also co-wrote the book with Fred Ebb. The play by the same name was a satire on crime and corruption in the ’20s and based loosely on actual criminals in Chicago’s wild Speak Easy days.
The result is a collection of classic characters with an enticing ride from seedy to sweet to toughened and, of course, a male character in drag for icing on the cake.
While there have been many TLP changes in nearly five decades of the summer stock existence, the latest is new artistic director James Beaudry succeeding previous talent Brad Lyons. Beaudry is no stranger to TLP, however. He merely changes hats after some eight seasons of choreography and direction to take the theatre into the “next half century,” he notes.
Whenever there are changing roles in any theatre organization, there might be potential bumps and bruises at the onset to settle into a new regime. The most pleasant surprise at the opening last week was that “Chicago” was everything and more in its presentation that the late Fosse would fully appreciate. Beaudry brought his abilities, background and choreographic genius into a marvelous collaboration to make this one of the best TLP shows yet.
The main forte of Beaudry is that he is able to glean a most Fosse-esque style and graft it seamlessly into the cast at hand. He utilized Fosse’s famous rebellion against ballet with the classic turned in rotation at the knees – or antiballet -- along with cynical shouldering and lots of use of hats and props.
And, of course, it helps to have top notch talent in the cast. Full-throttled and electric performers Jenny Guse as Roxie Hart and zappy redhead Andrea Leach as nemesis Velma Kelly led the show through countless numbers of song and dance. Guse had all the ingredients of a lead actress packaged to excel well beyond her sparkling sequins. Tyler Smith was also a highlight with his most affected high heeled character Mary Sunshine in drag, a hilarious influence from the pursed lips days of “Some Like it Hot.”
Philip Black as Billy Flynn was appropriately slick as was Jay Ellis as Amos Hart, Roxie’s sweet but simple-minded husband. Samantha Barboza was also strong as Matron of Cook County Jail Mama Morton.
Elsewhere in the cast and equally effective were Jeffrey Fenoglio, Colin Denniston, Lauren Omelson, Erin Schuppert, Brittany Martin, Kelsey Andres, Kara Konken, Trevor Leaderbrand, Meghan Mitchell, Jacob Lacopo, Wes Drummond, Daniel Switzer and Travis Horton. All cast members will be featured in the next five shows throughout the season.
With some 21 musical numbers, the show has an infectious upbeat from song to dance and back to song. The dialogue that slips between carries a lively timing of comedy that sews up the satire with many depths of brilliance.
Integral to the overall production and another Fosse-esque quality, is the magic use of lighting in this TLP production. Lighting designer Matthew Guminski does brilliantly textured scenes that compliment set designer Amanda Sweger’s sleek surroundings.
Must-see “Chicago” continues at Timber Lake Playhouse and runs Thursday, June 10 through the Sunday 2 p.m. matinee June 13. Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m., Thursday show at 7:30 p.m. The Mt. Carroll boonies are a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for tickets, group rates and more information.
For the exclusive Wednesday, June 2, “VIP Night” Video interviews of current and former TLP Board members and guests, see below.