Pop. Six. Squish. Uh-Uh. Cicero. Lipschitz.
“Cell Block Tango” is the number in “Chicago” every dancer and actress wants to be in and every audience member wants to see.
Audiences flocking to Landmark Community Theatre’s production of “Chicago,” closing this weekend at the Thomaston Opera House, have it coming with a dynamic show from the dances to the music.
And the six merry murderesses of the Cook County jail — Velma (Janina Gonzalez), Annie (Katie Brunetto), June (Malie Louise Grasmere), Liz (Martha Martin), Mona (Jean Marie-McGrath) and Leanna Scaglione (Hunyak the Hungarian) live up to and exceed expectations in their rendition of the “Cell Block Tango.” Each brought their own character (and accents) to their roles, letting their individuality shine and pop while maintaining cohesion as a dance team. There were no actual cells and black chairs were the only props/set worked into the number, but those decorations were not missed and it honed in on the dancing and acting.
That was true for the whole play, which has a black box theater feel to it with little set, eliminating distractions sometimes caused by set moves. The bare stage challenged the audience to rely on their imaginations to set the scene. The stage has levels to it with stairs down the middle, the orchestra visibly on either side in bleacher-style seating and a ladder to a high balcony platform downstage right. In true Fosse fashion, all of the performers wore black and the actresses wore various Burlesque-style outfits, never changing costumes whether they were one of the “Cell Block Tango” girls, a reporter or other character.
The show seemed more like a series of acts that each tell their own story, pieces of the overarching plot, as opposed to having a linear storyline. It had a refreshing, Vaudeville night club vibe to it that worked well.
Gonzalez is a triple threat on stage with the trifecta of a killer voice, strong dancing and exceptional acting. Her saucy attitude and tough spunk as Velma made her character stand out on stage.
Emily Diedrich plays Roxie Hart, the newest inmate on murderess row after shooting her lover. At first, her innocent persona was a little flat, but she added sizzle and excelled when she emoted sex appeal, attitude and strength in later dance numbers as her character craves more attention and strives to be the star she had always dreamed of being.
While she and Gonzalez hit all the dance steps in their final duo, they were a little off from each other in the number, however, Gonzalez’s dancing prowess drew your attention so it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the act.
“Cell Block Tango” may have been the number people came to see, as one of many big hits like “All That Jazz” that was jam-packed into the first act, but another highlight that surprised me was “We Both Reached for the Gun.” That was Diedrich’s strongest act as she portrayed a limber dummy while Roxie’s attorney, the razzling and dazzling Billy Flynn (Tom Chute) puts words in her mouth to try to win the press over to give Roxie celebrity status so she can be a famous performer when he hopefully clears her name in court. Her movements and facial expressions as a doll were just one example of how dance was so important in storytelling in this play.
The cast was lucky enough to work with Carolyn Kirsch, who was in 15 Broadway productions over 21 years and who worked with “Chicago” choreographer Bob Fosse. She also toured nationally in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago,” playing Velma Kelly, Roxie’s rival who wants Billy Flynn to focus on making her famous so she can book big dance gigs. The Thomaston production includes her master class choreography in two dance numbers.
Speaking of razzle dazzle, Chute charmed the audience with his coyness, charisma, humor and powerhouse voice, not to mention how long he can hold a note!
Carletha Hawley also had a standout voice as Mama Morten, the prison warden. She was not only a strong singer, but was also exceptional at putting the character into her songs.
Chuck Stango won the audience’s heart as Amos Hart, drawing people’s pity and sympathy as Roxie’s husband, especially in his number about feeling invisible, “Mr. Cellophane.” By the way, his name’s Amos!
The cast really utilized the fact that the orchestra was on stage, talking to music director and pianist T.J. Thompson, who either did or didn’t respond to them, adding humor even though he wasn’t a character.
There’s something that never seems to fail to draw laughs in theater and that’s a man in drag. D. Beaudoin was impressive as reporter Mary Sunshine, blond wig and all, particularly when he belted operatic soprano notes in falsetto that were higher than many of the female voice parts.
Caitlin Barra’s Go-to-Hell Kitty act was separate from “Cell Block Tango,” but had a similar feel and purpose as another possible murderess explaining why “he had it coming.” As a stand-alone act, it was pivotal to the plot and redirected the story when Roxie’s moment in the limelight seems fleeting and in danger of burning out.
All of the dancers really committed to this show portraying oozing seductresses.
If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I bet you would have said the same.
And you can still see it as the cast gets ready for closing weekend. Final shows are May 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. and May 3 at 2 p.m. You can call the box office for tickets at (860) 283-6250 or visit http://www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org for more information.