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Theater Review: 'Chicago' The Latest Reason To Take Advantage Of A Good Thing At WCSU

DANBURY — Western Connecticut State University sits so quietly in the center of Danbury that we sometimes might be tempted to take it for granted, and in so doing, miss out on its depth as a powerhouse in the fields of theatre arts and music. All you need do to discover this, however, is to take in one of their annual musical productions at the Berkshire Hall Theater. Not only are these an entertainment bargain, at $20 a ticket, but they are in fact, spectacularly good — filled with professional caliber singing and dancing, and staged with technical perfection in the areas of costumes, lighting, and sets.

A case in point is the recent rendition of the Kander, Ebb and Fosse musical Chicago, which was offered last month. While it was directed, choreographed and designed by members of the faculty, the production showcased the talents of the many dozens of students who are attending Western to major in theatrical performance.

If you’ve seen the show before — or more likely the movie — you know the story of the two competing hussies, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who find their 15 minutes of fame by killing their faithless lovers, spend time in Cook County jail under the supervision of the menacingly corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton, and are saved by the antics of their amoral defense lawyer, Billy Flynn, only to discover that the public’s attention has shifted to newer, and bloodier crimes.

At Western, Roxie and Velma were beautifully played by Anna Morse and Rachel Fournier, whose voices and sultry moves were spot-on perfect. Corinne Marshall gave Queen Latifah a run for her money in the role of Matron, and Matthew Grasso made the sleazy Billy a convincing anti-hero.

Every musical number in this show was a treat, from the opening “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango,” to Matron’s “When You’re Good to Mama (Mama’s good to you)” to “Mister Cellophane,” Roxie’s husband’s lament over the fact that people look right through him and don’t even notice him, finely handled by Zachary Charles Baron, and even “Razzle Dazzle,” Billy’s all-too-convincing explanation of how a good defense lawyer can twist the facts so totally that a jury is completely bamboozled.

The dancing was great, shades of Fosse but newly choreographed by Director Julio Agustin Matos, Jr and his cohort, Elizabeth Parkinson. The staging was fine too, bristling with dynamic energy as the low-life denizens of 1920s Chicago, strutted their way across the stage.

With a 16-piece black clad orchestra sitting in the heart of the stage, rather than the usual pit, the two level set was framed around them. Cages rolled in, containing the various inmates of the jail, then disappeared to make room for other scenes.

Clearly the kids on stage were having fun doing something they love, and the audience was having a great time as well. Western’s shows are open to the public, and there were quite a few familiar Newtown faces during one of the performances, taking advantage of a good thing.

My only caveat is that the large theater is not banked as well as it might be, so that rather than head for center seats in the middle, I would recommend you try the sides for the next production the university stages. You can see and hear perfectly from there, even in the last rows. Chicago was definitely entertainment worth going to see.

DANBURY — Western Connecticut State University sits so quietly in the center of Danbury that we sometimes might be tempted to take it for granted, and in so doing, miss out on its depth as a powerhouse in the fields of theatre arts and music. All you need do to discover this, however, is to take in one of their annual musical productions at the Berkshire Hall Theater. Not only are these an entertainment bargain, at $20 a ticket, but they are in fact, spectacularly good — filled with professional caliber singing and dancing, and staged with technical perfection in the areas of costumes, lighting, and sets.

A case in point is this year’s rendition of the Kander, Ebb and Fosse musical Chicago, which was offered last month. While it is directed, choreographed and designed by members of the faculty, the production showcases the talents of the many dozens of students who have come to Western to major in theatrical performance.

If you’ve seen the show before — or more likely the movie — you know the story of the two competing hussies, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who find their 15 minutes of fame by killing their faithless lovers, spend time in Cook County jail under the supervision of the menacingly corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton, and are saved by the antics of their amoral defense lawyer, Billy Flynn, only to discover that the public’s attention has shifted to newer, and bloodier crimes.

At Western, Roxie and Velma were beautifully played by Anna Morse and Rachel Fournier, whose voices and sultry moves are spot on perfect. Corinne Marshall gave Queen Latifah a run for her money in the role of Matron, and Matthew Grasso made the sleazy Billy a convincing anti-hero.

Every musical number in this show was a treat, from the opening “All That Jazz” and “Cell Block Tango,” to Matron’s “When You’re Good to Mama (Mama’s good to you)” to “Mister Cellophane,” Roxie’s husband’s lament over the fact that people look right through him and don’t even notice him, finely handled by Zachary Charles Baron, and even “Razzle Dazzle,” Billy’s alltoo-convincing explanation of how a good defense lawyer can twist the facts so totally that a jury is completely bamboozled.

The dancing was great, shades of Fosse but newly choreographed by Director Julio Agustin Matos, Jr and his cohort, Elizabeth Parkinson. The staging was fine too, bristling with dynamic energy as the low-life denizens of 1920s Chicago , strut their way across the stage.

With a 16-piece black clad orchestra sitting in the heart of the stage, rather than the usual pit, the two level set was framed around them. Cages rolled in, containing the various inmates of the jail, then disappeared to make room for other scenes.

Clearly the kids on stage were having fun doing something they love, and the audience was having a great time as well. Western’s shows are open to the public, and there were quite a few familiar Newtown faces during one of the performances, taking advantage of a good thing.

My only caveat is that the large theater is not banked as well as it might be, so that rather than head for center seats in the middle, I would recommend you try the sides for the next production the university stages. You can see and hear perfectly from there, even in the last rows. Chicago was definitely entertainment worth going to see.

 

More stories like this: Chicago, WCSU Theater, Berkshire Hall Theater
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