Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo

By Philip Pearce

CHICAGO! THE MUSICAL that has just opened at Cabrillo Stage, is a sardonic attack on the American cult of celebrity crime and punishment.

It’s about two star-struck chorines named Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who aim to use murder as a gateway to big-time fame and vaudeville stardom. By parodying different vaudeville styles of the 20s (“Cell Block Tango,” a courtroom full of  “Razzle Dazzle”) the show’s score and choreography mark and satirize key points in Kelly and Hart’s sordid struggle for vindication and a place in the Chicago limelight.

Under the skilled direction and choreography of Janie Scott and the musical direction of Mazera Cox-Goulter, Cabrillo serves it all up with lots of speed, volume and laughs.

The hopeful chorus ladies are played with plenty of toe-tapping moxie by Danielle Williams as Roxie and and Jessica Whittemore as Velma. Velma is all ironic snap, crackle and pop as she launches the story and demonstrates her sultry brunette approach to vaudeville and homicide and “All That Jazz” (see photo above.) Meanwhile, across town at the Hart place, Roxie is all phony blonde domesticity as she plans how she’ll explain to her “Funny Honey” hubby Amos why there’s a corpse on their bedroom floor.

Cook County Jail becomes the war room where the girls plot their competing strategies for trial, acquittal and stardom. Their link to the outside world of shady lawyers and exploding flashbulbs is an accommodating but greedy jail wardress named Mama Morton. Danny Dwaine Wells II does a fine job with the song and dance elements (“When You’re Good to Mama, Mama’s Good to You”) and the feisty female body language of the character.  If his performance has a weakness, it’s that in his nonmusical moments a likeable real life personality sometimes breaks through all that sassy dialogue, drag costuming and female makeup.

Appropriately bribed, Mama supplies Roxie with a man who will save her from the gallows.  As Billy Flynn, the flashy defense attorney who insists that “All I Care About is Love,” but demands proof to the tune of five thousand bucks, David Jackson is brilliant. He gets a lot of help from the script, of course, notably when it surrounds him with in a whirling chorus of fan dancers, who dress and undress him underneath all those white feathers.

Then there’s Roxie’s ineffectual husband Amos, a man so universally ignored and passed over that he calls himself “Mr. Cellophane” in a song Dave Leon delivers with such disarming candor and touching decency that he became the audience’s favorite character on opening night.

It’s a show with no pause or respite for the ensemble; they sing, dance and provide nonstop acting support in cameos as chorus boys and girls, murdering dames and their lowlife victims, jurors, reporters and even, for reasons you’ll need to discover for yourself, a crew of runny-nosed babies.

The script by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse and the music of John Kander move and mingle with the precision of well-oiled machinery and the company at Cabrillo are almost invariably ready, willing and able to meet the challenge.

Chicago! continues, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2, through July 10th.