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Chicago at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

Jun 07, 2011 09:42PM ● By Anonymous

This is mostly because of the 2002 film starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It has also had successful runs on Broadway, the West End, and National Tours.

This can make staging a non-professional production awfully tricky because it’s so easy to compare the actors and actresses you see onstage to those you’re more familiar with. For the local production to achieve success, it has to blend elements that just can’t be
changed (in this instance, particularly, Bob Fosse’s iconic style of dancing) with the personalities and talents of those performing in the production.

And the good news is that Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of Chicago does just that, which makes for an incredibly enjoyable evening under the stars.

I had never attended an ASGT production before, and didn’t realize until I was looking up directions that it all takes place outdoors. It was an interesting experience … while the walls of the theatre (it’s just the roof that’s missing) pretty much blocks all sound from
downtown Annapolis, you might want to use bug spray and dress in layers. As the sun goes down, I got chilly!

In case you haven’t seen Chicago in the past, it focuses on two women, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who have both committed murder in Prohibition-era Chicago. While Roxie dreams of being a Vaudeville performer, Velma has already achieved fame by doing an
act with her sister and husband (both of whom she murdered). They are both represented by a scummy lawyer, Billy Flynn, who is willing to do anything (as are they) to be acquitted.

Just as in the Broadway production, ASGT’s stage consisted only of the members of the band and three door openings for the cast to enter and exit. If you’ve never seen a production of Chicago before, it takes some imagination to envision the cast in nightclubs, jail cells, and courthouses. But it isn’t the set that’s supposed to steal the scene—it’s the dancing, which truly shines. The production was directed and choreographed by Taavon Gamble, a Baltimore native, who (according to his program biography) has worked and learned from other Bob Fosse dancers. Two of the highlights of the musical are the opening number, “All That Jazz,” and “Cell Block Tango,” in which six female jailbirds give their reasons for murdering a man in their life.

On that topic, a note for parents: This isn’t a show for kids or immature teenagers. The women are scantily clad and the language and subject matter isn’t really appropriate.

Moving right along, the two stars of the show, Velma Kelly, played by Hannah Thornhill, and Roxie Hart, played by Nicole Anderson, really shined. Thornhill offered up Velma’s

signature sass perfectly, while Anderson exudes a charisma and stage presence not often found. If you count the movie, I’ve seen Chicago four times, including on Broadway, and Nathan Bowen’s Billy Flynn ranks as one of the top (Sorry, Richard). At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of Tobias Young’s portrayal of Amos, Roxie’s dopey husband, but by his second-act number, “Mister Cellophane,” he had won me over. (And the rest of the audience, too, apparently, as he got a cheering round of applause after the number as well as during the curtain call.)

One of the great things about this production is that while it runs about 2.5 hours, it truly doesn’t feel like that. However, I can see why the 2002 film production omitted certain musical numbers, particularly “A Little Bit of Good,” sung by news reporter Mary Sunshine. While it’s included in this local production, it just doesn’t bring much to the musical.

However, that’s no reason to skip out on a night of great talent, fun music, and beautiful weather (if you get so lucky) that can be yours by attending the ASGT’s production of Chicago.



Dates: Runs Thursday–Sunday through June 19
Tickets: $18
Address: 143 Compromise St., Annapolis