THEATER REVIEW: “Chicago” at Welk Resorts

It’s dark and funny, death-black and wicked and wonderful.

It’s “Chicago,” Kander and Ebbs’ classic valentine to the darker side of the 1920’s, and it’s getting a terrific production through June 2 at Welk Resorts Theatre. Ray Limon directs and choreographs the 1975 musical whose 1996 revival is still running on Broadway.

Here’s a show that perfectly profiles that time when booze flowed freely (if you knew where to look), girls wore short skirts and shorter hair and Al Capone ruled the local underworld.

You say there’s nothing funny about criminal thugs and murderers? Wait till you hear the cleverness of both book (by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse) and Ebb’s lyrics, set to the sparkling music of John Kander and wonderfully choreographed by Limon.

You recall the story: the women’s cell block acquires new (married) resident Roxie Hart (Adrienne Storrs), who shot her lover Fred Casely (Manuel Rodriguez) when she found him with another woman. She fits right in with the other “Merry Murderesses,” who explain why (and how) they plugged their respective spouses/boyfriends in “Cell Block Tango.”

The unquestioned cell block “star” is Velma Kelly (Natalie Nucci), current favorite client of ethically challenged attorney Billy Flynn (Randall Dodge), and less than thrilled to meet a new potential rival for press attention.

Billy may be ethically challenged, but he knows how to create a media darling, and soon Roxie becomes the jailbird of the day, hogging the headlines and angering Velma.

“The girls” are overseen by matron “Mama” Morton (Valerie Geason), more than willing to provide special favors for anyone who greases her palm adequately.

The real victim here is Roxie’s devoted but clueless husband Amos (Shaun Thomas), cajoled by Roxie into hiring Flynn, though coming up with the requisite $5,000 fee is iffy.

There isn’t a weak link in this cast. Nucci’s Velma is imperious and confident, the voice strong and clear. Storrs’ blonde Roxie is a great foil for Velma. Both have astonishing athletic skills along with their acting and singing chops. It’s a pleasure to watch them tangle.

Geason’s Mama Morton is a find, possessed of a commanding stage presence and a strong voice with tinges of blues and gospel.

RC Sands is a total hoot as “sob sister” journalist Mary Sunshine, especially in the big reveal toward the end.

Dodge has appeared on this and many local stages. He has never disappointed, and he doesn’t here either. Billy Flynn is sleazy, but Dodge’s portrayal isn’t, and neither is his fine voice.

Thomas has the toughest part; the hangdog, henpecked Amos has to be a sympathetic pushover, yet still able to bring a tear to the eye when he sings that great anthem of the forgotten, “Mister Cellophane.” Thomas succeeds brilliantly.

Justin Gray’s small but mighty musical band of five keeps the beat going with panache. Janet Pitcher’s costumes are fine and so is Paul Vanderjagt’s clever set. Watch for the “casket” created for Roxie’s victim Fred.

“Chicago” is one of the best musicals ever written, and Welk does it proud.

The details

“Chicago” plays through June 2 at Welk Resorts Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 1 pm; 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at 8 pm.

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.