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Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Chicago

It’s got “All the Jazz,” but it could use a bit of bite

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre opens its season with Chicago, an upbeat musical with a downbeat outlook. Despite bouncy, memorable music, Chicago carries a cautionary tale about celebrity, corruption and media fascination with both. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre captures the upbeat side flawlessly. The downbeat side is less well rendered.
    Roxie and Velma are both on trial for murder. But they are more concerned about how many column inches they get in the press and how they can parlay their notoriety into show business careers than about going to jail. Opportunists always working the system to their own benefit, they are not very nice people. As are all the characters in Chicago, save two.
    Many things are right about this Chicago: a small stage effectively used; superb choreography and talented dancing; great vocal strengths and strong acting. The two leads — Nicole Anderson as Roxie and Hannah Thornhill as Velma — are well balanced and strong in vocal, dancing and acting abilities. Debbie Barber-Eton as prison matron Mama projects the corrupt power of her role with strong vocals. Nathan Bowen as the flinty lawyer, Billy Flynn, is always a charming performer. The strongest vocalist is Kristina Friedgen as Mary Sunshine, the duped and gullible reporter who belts out “A Little Bit of Good.”
    The emotional core, however, comes from Tobias Young as Amos, the husband done wrong by two-timing Roxie. Young’s confusion and pain about how the woman he loves could treat him so badly is what gives Chicago its bite. His rendition of “Mister Cellophane” is heart-breaking.
    Summer Garden Theatre’s focus is all on music and dancing. Both are done exceedingly well, as they must be in a Kander and Ebb/Bob Fosse creation. A bit more depth and range of emotions would complement the razzle-dazzle. For example, in addition to Amos, the other character not solely out to work the system is Hunyak, a non-English speaking prisoner who can only say not guilty all the way to the gallows. Her demise should have more emotional power, and that would give the production more range and impact.
    As always at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, excellent musicians back up the cast and give a strong musical grounding to the show. The professionalism and assurance of all the performers in this Chicago is impressive. Director/choreographer Taavvon Gamble is to be commended for his reach in creating intricate choreography, and the cast is to be commended for grasping his vision and realizing it so very well. Razzle-dazzle, indeed.

Director and choreographer: Taavvon Gamble. Music director: Shane Jensen. Stage manager: Quincy Saarbach. Costume designer: Elizabeth Hudson. Lighting designer: Nathan Hawkins. Technical director and sound engineer: Bob Foery. With AaJaye Tyrell, Lacy Schmidt, Amanda Cimaglia, Carlie Kidd, Katura Smith, Jennie Harrison Young, Elizabeth Hudson, Viki Nova, Amber Clair Perkins, Justin Binnix and Andrew Gordon.
Playing thru June 19 at 8:30pm Th-Su at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 413 Compromise St. $18 w/age discounts: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com/chicago.