San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of Chicago gets your attention before the first note of the longtime Broadway favorite is sung. When gorgeous cast member Jennifer Simpson, barely clad in black, struts down one of the aisles of the Birch North Park Theatre and takes the stage like she owns the place, you know this is going to be one sexy show – and it is. Maybe that’s why the1975 show written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, with collaboration on the book from the redoubtable Bob Fosse, never gets old. It’s saucy and sassy and still quite funny, and the SDMT production does not disappoint.
You start with a worthy Roxie Hart, and Australian Emma Radwick, enjoying her U.S. theatrical debut, has all the right moves. Besides begin an agile dancer and expressive comedian, she makes for a lovable killer. Roxie, as you may remember, is incarcerated and subsequently on trial for the shooting death of the guy with whom she’s cheating on her nebbish of a husband, Amos (Jason James). Neither Kyra Da Costa, as Roxie’s jailhouse (and showbiz) rival Velma Kelly, nor Robert J. Townsend, as flamboyant lawyer Billy Flynn, possesses Radwick’s magnetism, but they hold their own in a benignly notorious show that brims with cleverly written (and choreographed, by Randy Slovacek) tunes such as “Cell Block Tango,” “We Both Reached For The Gun,” “Razzle Dazzle” and, of course, the opening “All That Jazz.” A highlight of Act 2 is Velma and “Mama” Morton’s (Ria Carey) wistful, laugh-out-loud duet “Class” (excerpt: “Oh, there ain’t no gentlemen that’s fit for any use, and any girl’d touch your privates for a deuce …”)
The presence of the orchestra on stage can feel intrusive, in spite of the strong musical accompaniment conducted by Don Le Master. This is a Chicago for the most part without a set. But Roxie’s, Velma’s and the ensemble’s costumes (design by Janet Pitcher) are so eye-catching that who cares if there’s no jail cell or courtroom?
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat