Northwestern Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

THEATER REVIEW DeSales Act 1 'Chicago' has all that sass

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

"Chicago" is as brash a musical as can be expected to be set in America's second-city, where crime, scandals and front-page newspaper headlines are second to none.

The musical, directed stunningly with that brash spirit by Dennis Razze, chair of theater, DeSales University, and Associate Artistic Director, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, continues 8 p.m. May 1 - 4 and 2 p.m. May 4 and 5 on the main stage, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley.

"Chicago" is the concluding show for the Act 1 theater season of DeSales' Performing and Fine Art Department. What's always been amazing about DeSales theater students, going back to the basement theater stage days on the campus pre-Labuda, is their pizzazz, audience engagement and polished performances.

Act 1 produces professional-quality shows. "Chicago" is no exception. It is exceptional. While the entire cast of some 24 is excellent, several of the leads are outstanding. You can visualize these young students going on to successful Broadway, television and film careers as many DeSales grads have done.

Phoenix Best (Velma Kelly) has the voice, dance and gymnastic moves (cartwheels aplenty) in several spotlight numbers, right from the get-go with the show's John Kander and Fred Ebb signature song, "All That Jazz."

Julie Pfender (Roxie Hart) has the vocal, comedic and dance skills in the show's very next song, "Funny Honey," precariously if calmly balanced atop an upright piano.

Hannah Delaney (Matron "Mama" Morton) is wonderfully sardonic in one of show's other best-known numbers, "When You're Good to Mama."

John Cappelletti (Billy Flynn) is rakishly handsome, smooth and in wonderful voice for "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle."

J. Wallace (Mary Sunshine) is certainly a surprise and carries it off in "A Little Bit of Good."

Kevn White (Amos Hart) is endearing in "Mister Cellophane."

The fine performances are in the context of DeSales professional staff, including an impeccable 12-member orchestra conducted energetically by Music Director Nathan Diehl and well-rendered in the theater's new sound system by Sound Designer Matthew Given.

Scenic designer Alan C. Edwards and Lighting Designer Elizabeth Elliott create a nightclub, prison and apartment efficiently and convincingly. The orchestra is on an elevated platform behind the actors.

That gives a lot of space for Choreographer Lynne Mariani to showcase that Bob Fosse style: wrist dust-offs, low snaps, bent knees and torso moves, quirky side-steps, one-foot turns, single shoulder rolls, pointed toe straight-ahead leg thrusts, and, of course, a trademark tip of the derby.

It's all wrapped up in Costume Designer Amy Best fabulousness with of lots of black, lots of lace and lots of sass.

And that just about sums up Act 1's audacious "Chicago": all that sass, indeed.