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Theater Review: "Chicago"

“Chicago” plays through September 29, 2018 at Moonlight Amphitheatre
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

Remember the good old days when mouthy flappers wore short hair and short skirts, women were as easy to get as booze at a speakeasy and murder in Chicago was “a form of entertainment?”

Some of those women, taking advantage of the easy availability of hardware, wiped out their philandering (or simply annoying) spouses or boyfriends, landing in prison. Now they sing us their stories from the women’s cell block in the Cook County jail, under the watchful eye of Matron “Mama” Morton (Regina LeVert), who is more than willing to provide special favors for anyone who greases her palm adequately.

Moonlight Stage Productions offers the Kander/Ebb/Fosse musical “Chicago” through Sept. 29 in the Moonlight Amphitheatre.

It’s a smashing production, staged as a vaudeville show with conductor Kenneth Grammie and his 12-member band onstage. It’s co-directed by James Vásquez and Terra C. MacLeod (who doubles as Roxie Hart, one of the “merry murderesses”) and features terrific choreography by Corey Wright.

Inmate Velma Kelly (Roxane Carrasco) has plans for a return to vaudeville, and “Mama” Morton has helped her become the celebrity murderess of the week. With “All That Jazz,” Velma welcomes us to Chicago and the speakeasies “where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot.”

But when newcomer Roxie Hart (MacLeod) hits the scene, with her great blonde looks and body to match, it’s instant rivalry. She’s killed her lover, and when Roxie gets her “Funny Honey” Amos (Randall Hickman) to hire sleazoid defense attorney Billy Flynn (David Engel), we’re in for a media battle between the two jailbirds.

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.

Billy also knows how to play “sob sister” journalist Mary Sunshine (a very funny Elle H. Jacobs) to his clients’ advantage.

Carrasco is sultry and sassy as the world-weary Velma, singing and dancing as if she’s seen it all.

MacLeod proves a worthy sister in crime, and a fine contrast in attitude and style.

LaVert’s Mama Morton has seen it all, and learned how to profit from some. She’s a hoot.

Danielle Airey makes a jaw-dropping contribution as Hunyak, the Hungarian immigrant defendant who can’t afford Billy’s prices but still wants to believe in American justice. She wows the audience with her aerialist number with silks.

I can’t say enough about the solid dance corps, whose intricate tap numbers and plenty of attitude set the tone brilliantly.

For a show written in 1975, “Chicago” seems distressingly timely, with political corruption and anti-immigrant attitudes at its center. A valentine to the darker side of the 1920s, “Chicago” holds the record for longest-running musical. See why in Moonlight’s terrific production.

The details

“Chicago” plays through September 29, 2018, at Moonlight Amphitheatre

1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista 92084

Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com