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A Killer Show in East Greenwich

Directed by Michael P. Farrelly

Reviewed by Geri Sereno, May 3, 2003

reprinted by permission  The Westerly Sun 

    It’s just one of those romantic little stories about love. You know, where girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl shoots boy dead, and all that jazz. 

    Sound familiar?  It should, unless of course you’ve been living on some remote island for the past several years. With the highly successful Broadway revival, and the Oscar winning film of 2002 still wowing its viewing audience, it seems most appropriate that The Academy Players of East Greenwich concludes its 47th season with Kander and Ebb’s smash musical hit Chicago.

    Presented at the refurbished Greenwich Odeum Theater on Main Street of this quaint seaside village, the age-old theater troupe has outdone itself with a near perfect production, quite keenly directed by Michael P. Farrelly.

    When the curtain opens you are instantly transported into the unholy ambiance of a 1920’s gin joint, where scantily clothed ladies drape themselves around men of unsavory character, and dance in shadows to the corruptible sounds of lusty jazz.

     Anthony Prichard has created a very effective set design that encompasses all of these sordid elements, and which allows the exceptional orchestra, led most efficiently by Scott Morency, a spot of its own atop the stage. It easily transforms from dance hall, to boudoir, to prison block, to courtroom with simplistic efficiency and a clever lighting design by Dennis Pouliot Jr.

    Adding more oomph to this less than sanctified atmosphere is the sensual costume design by Robert deMattio. Every article of clothing accentuates the sumptuous curves of the bohemian dancers, but just barely, and strikes a stark contrast next to the prim, but not so proper, populace of the wicked, windy city.

    Choreographer Jaci Marfuggi joins the other splendid dancers in sensational steps, turns, splits and corporeal posturing, as they dance out the story of wanton women gone awry.

     Stage managing such a large and complicated show, with sound, lighting and cast cues in daunting abundance, is never an easy task. Tonia Klemp certainly deserves a curtain call of her own for her proficient handling of this Herculean task.

    The plot of Chicago is based in reality. The creators adapted their story around the popularity of two cold blooded, calculating murderesses, and the manipulative press that promoted their questionable innocence.

     Velma Kelly is an entertainer who has killed her husband and sister, who is also her performance partner, after she catches them “in the act.”  Joanna Scoggins plays this vixen with sultry sass and vigor. She is a very physical dancer and adeptly applies this talent to her numbers with trained finesse. I only wish that the microphones used were better at picking up her lower register to enable the audience to fully appreciate her vocal abilities. 

    Roxie Hart cheats regularly on her husband, and shoots one of her illicit lovers when he attempts to walk out on her after a passionate encounter. Taryn Mallard-Reid is quite exceptional as this conniving seductress who schemes and shams her way to acquittal. Her extraordinarily ample talents as singer, dancer and actress are simply astonishing, and prove that she is very well cast as this deadly diva.

    The chorus line of devious cellblock habitants is dangerously beguiling. Every member possesses viably skilled talents that entertain and titillate. Of special note is Sarah Elizabeth Bilofsky as the Hungarian axe murderess, who may be the only true innocent of the lot. If only the justice system could understand her language, her life might have been saved. Bilofsky masters her foreign dialogue with skillful expertise and adroitly relates her antagonism through song and dance.

     Betty Nolan, a regular on this East Greenwich stage, has such a melodious voice, which she uses to full extent as she fashions the “motherly” Matron of the death row inmates. And Wayne Alan Hawkins as the slick defense attorney Billy Flynn, adequately slithers his way across stage and deep into the pockets of his desperate clientele. The characters are in it solely for their financial benefit and the two actors serve them due justice.

     Neil G. Santoro is most touching as Roxie’s naïve husband. His understatement of this nearly transparent character is glowing and elicits a sympathetic, and appreciative response from his audience.

    One cannot overlook R. Bento’s amusing ability to portray Mary Sunshine, the journalist who creates the news as well as reports it. Mary has much to hide herself, and Bento’s performance in this role is delightfully ironic.

      Despite a few technical difficulties, and some moments of insecure dialogue, all in all, The Academy Players offer a highly stylized and brightly polished production of this very provocative play.

    Chicago runs through May 18th, and should continue to have packed audiences. If you chose to attend, then I highly recommend that you call the box office at (401) 885-6910 as soon as possible to secure your reservations.

Academy Players
Odeum Theater
Main Street
East Greenwich, RI
(1) 401 885-6910