by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
TNB Theatre School, The Playhouse
I find it difficult to review musicals, and especially musicals put on as part of educational enterprises. The Theatre New Brunswick Theatre School is an important initiative, however, and their work deserves to be noted, especially when, as in the current production of Chicago, so much of the work is of professional quality -- and, in fact, represents professional contributions to the production. It's particularly important in this case to acknowledge the superlative musicianship of the band, overseen by Mark Adam from behind the drum kit (and just behind one of the scenery flats), and the general level of production values -- especially, perhaps, Chris Saad's lighting.
The production itself, directed by Theatre School Director Leigh Rivenbark, is itself powerful and thoughtful -- though, as one might expect, the problem of getting an excessively large cast on and off the rather cramped stage is not quite satisfactorily resolved, and the dancing and choreography deal stalwartly with similar problems. More seriously, for me, the show itself is one I find, shall we say, unpleasant: rather like a slightly more cynical and less worldly version of Cabaret, with characters it's rather more difficult to like, identify with, or care much about. If Catherine Zeta-Jones was unable to bring me to like Velma Kelly in the movie version, it's not a surprise that even the extraordinarily talented Alicia Toner couldn't pull it off. The best moment of the show, as of the movie, was the wonderfully sad "Mr. Cellophane," performed with genuine pathos (and a set of pretty good clownlike dance moves) by Jeff Dingle as Amos, the hapless husband of the grasping heroine, Roxie Hart. Kristen Pottle tried valiantly to make Roxie vivacious enough to be engaging, but I think Bob Fosse's contempt for everybody, including his audience, defeated even her.
Learning experience for everybody involved? For sure. Entertaining theatrical evening? For most of the packed house, no question at all. Me, I loved the band.