Review: ‘Chicago’ at Santa Clara University

by Mark Johnson

It’s a rip-roaring good time.

“Chicago” is perhaps one of the best known musicals of all time. The current Broadway production has been playing continuously since 1996, the 2002 movie adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the score contains such well-known hits as “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle.” Almost anybody who likes musicals will have seen it at some time or another, and one might hesitate to attend yet another production of this well-loved show.  However, Santa Clara University proves that “Chicago” remains wildly entertaining and is spectacular fun, even after all these years.

The student company does an excellent job, although the audience must make allowances for the fact that characters aged 40 or older are played here by much younger performers. The students  are capable enough to sell it, but it is still slightly jarring to see Roxie Hart proclaim that she is older than she ever intended to be while barely looking old enough to drink.

Big numbers are where this production truly excels. “Cell Block Tango” and “All I Care About” could hardly come across better, especially with the help of a strong orchestra. For second act showstopper, Razzle Dazzle, the company pulls out all the stops, giving the audience a coup de théâtre that will have your toes curling and your jaw on the floor.

Kalina Venugopal and Lyndsey Brown, as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, have exceptionally strong singing voices and are very fine actresses. However, they seem to be playing their parts to win sympathy instead of the typically bilious and hateful interpretations of the roles. It’s an interesting choice, but it doesn’t come across as well as it might. Nonetheless, their renditions of songs like “My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays” are absolutely sterling.

Maura Bonini is wonderfully brash as Matron “Mama” Morton; Max Jennings gives a fantastic performance ripped right out of a film noir as Billy Flynn; and Derek Sikkema is touchingly sensitive as Amos Hart. Sarah Olive-McStay gives perhaps the evening’s most interesting performance as Mary Sunshine, a part created in the original by a man (the great M. O’Haughey, he of the five octave range, performing in drag). This reviewer was slightly dubious when Olive-McStay came on to sing her first number, but her crack comedic timing and powerful soprano voice are enough to make her a very fine addition to the cast.

Director Jeffery Braco and choreographer Pauline Locsin-Kater clearly understand the show’s black-hearted sensibilities, staging it with finesse and a number of creative touches. Not everything works, such as the bizarre way in which the Master of Ceremonies and the Mistress of Ceremonies split up their dialogue, but they clearly serve to enhance the evening overall.

There’s very little reason not to see this production of “Chicago.” It’s a rip-roaring good time.

“Chicago” continues at Santa Clara University through June 4. For further information, click here

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Rating: ****
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“Chicago.” Music: John Kander. Lyrics: Fred Ebb. Book: Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse. Script Adaptation: David Thompson. Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Produced by Santa Clara University Department of Theatre & Dance. Director: Jeffery Braco. Choreographer: Pauline Locsin-Kater. Musical Director: Tony Asaro. Scenic Designer: Jerald Enos. Costume Designer: Naomi Arnst. Lighting Designer: Derek Duarte. Sound Designer: George Pssaras. Technical Director: David Sword. Olive-McStay, Tessie Berghoff.

Musicians:

Reed I: Keith Leung. Reed II: Mark Beyer, Ken Crowell. Reed III: Mark Russo. Trumpet I: Jesse Sanchez. Trumpet II: Vincent Jurado. Trombone I: Jeremy Carillo. Trombone II: Elissa Yang. Bass: Gregory Holmes. Percussion: Dominic Moisant. Banjo: Steve Adkins. Piano: Sam Cisneros. Keyboard: Alex Ahrens. Violin: Lucy Southern.

Cast: 

Velma Kelly: Kalina Venugopal. Roxie Hart: Lyndsey Brown. Billy Flynn: Max Jennings. Matron “Mama” Morton: Maura Bonini. Mary Sunshine: Sarah Olive-McStay. Amos Hart: Derek Sikkema. Mistress of Ceremonies: Kaitlin Zablotsky. Master of Ceremonies: Nick Medál, Fred Casely: Christian Wilburn. Sergeant Fogarty: Darrell Hubbard. Kitty: Genre McAtee, Aaron: Daniel Stahlnecker. Harrison: Lee Harrold. The Merry Murderesses: Liz: Caitlin Burns, June: Katie Fauria, Annie: Madeline Knutson. Hunyak: Judy (Bao-An) Ngo. Mona: Torrie Ornelas. Ensemble: Bridget Aiello, Natalie Duong, Nina Feliciano, Ella Fogel, Jeremiah Givens, Lee Harrold, Darrell Hubbard, Cynthia Le, Genre McAtee, Byron Nguyen, Rachel Robles, Daniel Stahlnecker, Christian Wildburn.

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