Stripped-down 'Chicago' gets everything right

Popular musical on stage at Rochester Opera House through Jan. 31

Jeanné McCartin
From left, Linette Miles, Rob Scullin and Seraphina Caligiure star in "Chicago, The Musical" now playing at the Rochester Opera House. Courtesy photo

The Rochester Opera House starts its year with a high energy, smart kicking, well-appointed production of “Chicago: The Musical.” Everything is right – direction, performances and the supporting arts.

Director Stephen Small opts for stylized visuals over the traditional razzle dazzle set and costuming. The production’s flow and deft-of-hand cast is so engaged, the spartan stage is barely noticed. This show’s dazzle is the art, not spectacle (though they achieve that as well.)

The popular musical, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse with music by John Kander and lyrics by Ebb, is based on a play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Dallas Watkins wrote the original after covering trials of accused and acquitted female murderers in the 1920s. It’s the era of jazz when a good murder by a pretty lady makes for big news and –with the right lawyer and lots of press by sob-sister reporters – you could become a print star and go free.

Chicago’s score is one of the genre’s best, featuring numerous crossover tunes such as “And All that Jazz,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “When You’re Good To Mama,” “Cell Block Tango,” and others.

Director Small started by pulling together a skilled cast. Everyone is where they should be and he works them aptly.

In his notes, Small says some things can’t be improved on, so he took on the choreographer’s role and recreated the revival’s dance routines. He also acted as the costume designer, drawing on its stylized black and white plot. More importantly with the latter, he took his cues for individual costumes from the character and actor for a smart affect.

The cast is superb, starting with Rob Scullin who returns to the stage after more than an eight-year absence. Scullin quickly dispels any fear of rusty or waning talent. He gives a perfect portrayal as the smarmy, charming Billy Flynn, and his bold, deep singing voice remains strong, impressive and as beautiful as it was decades ago.

Next up, the two murderesses, Seraphina Caligiure as Velma and Linette Miles as Roxie. Both nail it!

Caligiure is sassy, classy and brash at all the right times and her warm voice plays perfect conjuror to her tunes.

Miles’ Roxie is perfectly inane, crass and street-smart; her mix is perfect. She tops off the performance by handling each song with style.

Sarah Shanahan gives Mama all the cheek, and muscle, required along with solid vocals. Her duet with Caligiure is a show highlight.

Katherine Kneisley is perfect as Mary Sunshine and blows the roof off the house with her outstanding voice.

James Weeden is perfectly pathetic – a bit put-offish even, exactly what Amos Hart should be.

The entire ensemble shines, the dance numbers are crisp, and the united voice rousing.

Musical Director Kathy Fink has done a commendable job and, along with the five other musicians who join her on stage, performs the score beautifully.

The band is set on stage on two second-story platforms flanked with stairs and backed by a walkway, all done in black. What color there is is from the deft lighting by Michael Turner, and the occasional flash of white or silver clothing.

Nothing is lost in this striped down version of “Chicago.” In fact, the story seems clearer for it, Dallas Watkins' satire more clear. This is a slick, entertaining production well worth your discretionary time.

WHAT: "Chicago, The Musical"

WHERE: Rochester Opera House

WHEN: Through Jan. 31, Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.

COST: $18 to $26

CONTACT: www.rochesteroperahouse.com, 335-1992