MATUNUCK — Tarra Connor jones, the magnificent performer who stole the show at Theatre By The Sea earlier this summer, with her great big, powerful, voice (and presence) in “Ain’t Misbehavin,” has done it again.
Connor Jones blows the roof off the old wooden barn in her role as Matron “Mama” Horton with her “When You’re Good to Mama” in the theater’s current production of “Chicago,” now on stage through Sept. 9.
While not necessarily my favorite musical (what with the press corps portrayed as easy-to-manipulate papparazzi), the performances in this show more than make up for the slams at a professsion already unfairly under siege. But perhaps I’m taking things too seriously. It turns out that playwright/journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote the play — about “women accused of murder, the press, celebrity criminals, and the corruption of justice” to let the world know what life was like back in the Chicago of the 1920s.
“Murder. Greed. Corruption. Violence. Exploitation. Adultery. Treachery,” as the program tells us.
Of course, the musical, based on the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, would go on to become the longest-running musical in Broadway history.
I think most of us may be familiar with the music from “Chicago,” — songs like “All that Jazz,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Funny Honey,” Me and My Baby,” and “Mr. Cellophane” — and it’s a treat to hear them belted out on this stage from this talented crew.
This version of “Chicago” is not only packed with great voices but with extraordinary dancers and dancing — Fosse-style dancing. Fosse, as dance fans are aware, was the legendary director-choreographer known for making dance on stage daring — provocative, sexual, and acrobatic.
Bravo to director Bob Richard and choreographer Diane Laurenson, who have followed in the fabulous Fosse tradition.
Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Jessica Wockenfuss is terrific,) a wannabe nightclub dancer who cheats on her milquetoast husband Amos Hart (Kevin Loreque is perfectly cast) then murders her lover. (Research tells me that Roxie’s character is based on a real person, one Beulah Annan.) Desperate to avoid conviction, Roxie dupes the public, the media and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly (Michelle Alves is super-sleek, sultry and sensational) by hiring Chicago’s slickest and sleazy criminal lawyer Billy Flynn (Matthew J. Taylor, with his deep, rich voice, is good and strong and gives another reason to see the show) to invent a grand cover-up.
When Flynn first arrives on stage singing “All I Care About,” he is surrounded by a gaggle of women waving enormous white ostrich feathers who join him in song for big, fat, fun and flashy number.
Bravo also to the orchestra — Conductor Peter Leigh-Nilsen, on keyboard, violin and banjo; Thomas Brinkley, tuba and bass; Richard Marchetti, piccolo, clarinet and saxophone; James Monaghan and Craig Robbins, trombone; Mike Sartini, drums and percussion; Mathan Urdangen, keyboard; and Greg Whitakerm trumpet and flugelhorn.