Arts and Entertainment

Theater review: Toe-tapping 'Chicago' plays the Valley

PALMER -- Glenn Massay Theater, which opened in February, has hosted everything from a women's film festival to folk musicians brought to Alaska by Whistling Swan. This season the theater, which is part of Mat-Su College, is creating its own productions with (mostly) local talent in the state-of-the-art performance space.

Right now a bright, lively staging of "Chicago, the Musical" is on the boards. The show is as impressive to both eye and ear, with Sharon Brown's single two-story set consisting of stylized boxes divided by a grand staircase. The bare-bones but highly functional arrangement has an alluring lighting design by Kirsten Nagel. The excellent band, led by Andrea Lang, keeps the musicians in view, though in silhouette, in the back of the first level.

Pamela Burlingame's choreography, an abbreviated version of Bob Fosse's original toe-tapping steps, is pulled off by a precise company of Wasilla area dancers, a group called Enliven, who put on a fine show and were onstage and in motion most of the time. The miking of the voices was excellent, supplying a clear, big sound -- maybe a little too big for the Massay -- and letting us hear every word, even in the choruses.

Katy Schmidt has the main role of Roxie, the vaudeville wannabe in jail after shooting her lover, presented with lively attitude and expression. As Velma, her rival in both the prison and for the affections of the press and public, Chantel Grover is sensational, singing in a tough, low and compelling voice and fleshing out her bad-girl character in a highly believable fashion. Both are striking, athletic dancers, pulling off cartwheels toward the finale. Grover even managed a one-handed cartwheel, which is something I don't think I've seen in any of the professional productions of "Chicago" that have toured to Anchorage in the past.

Ted Carney, who has an uncanny resemblance to television star Ed O'Neill, was more charming than smarmy as celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn, but he supplied the bigger-than-life character the role demands and then some. All three of these leads had fine, strong voices, as did Rob Tracy, playing Roxie's husband, insofar as I could tell from his one solo, with Grover being the most polished of the three.

The other two parts with significant singing roles, Andrea Talbert as "Mama" Morton and Kate McKee as reporter Mary Sunshine, were not always on pitch, and we note that they are supposed to be vocal caricatures in whole or part. But they were plenty strong and, again, well-enunciated. Everyone made the most of their big notes.

Under the direction of Grant Olson, the pacing sometimes lagged, though not seriously. The woman next to me exclaimed at the end, "It's over already?"

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This is a "Chicago" worth the trip -- about 30 minutes from Eagle River, 50 minutes from Midtown Anchorage. The Mat-Su Campus, about a mile from the Glenn Highway via Trunk Road, is just about the first thing an Anchorage driver gets to when heading to the Valley.

In the coming months the Massay is presenting its own productions of "Treasure Island," a stage adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, and the romantic comedy "Boom." It will host an Alaska version of "The Nutcracker" in December and "Fiddler on the Roof" from the Triumvirate Theater company of Soldotna/Kenai in February. In addition, there are ongoing performances by Alaska musicians under the heading of the "Alaska Home Concert Series."

CHICAGO, THE MUSICAL will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Oct. 29-30 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31 at the Glenn Massay Theater. General admission is $19, $11 for students, available at glennmassaytheater.com or by calling 907-746-9300. The theater is located on the Mat-Su College campus, 8295 E. College Dr, Palmer.

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham has been a reporter and editor at the ADN since 1994, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print.

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