The heated competition between merry murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly is back as Springboro Community Theatre continues its inaugural season with an entertaining production of composer John Kander, lyricist/co-librettist Fred Ebb, and co-librettist Bob Fosse’s classic 1975 musical Chicago.
The core 1920s battle inside the Cook County Jail as famed veteran Velma is challenged in publicity and attention by upstart Roxie is well-established and believably grounded by Logan Hylinksi and Kailey Yeakley, respectively. Although their youth significantly lessens the level of desperation inherently built inside both roles, they nonetheless bring charisma, passion, sensuality, and spunk to the stage as stakes are raised. Hylinski, agile, sleek and sly with an impressive grasp of the Fosse style, greatly emphasizes Velma’s unexpected change of course having to share her turf and see her reputation disintegrate as Roxie surpasses her. “I Can’t Do It Alone,” Velma’s plea for Roxie’s assistance, showcases Hylinksi to the fullest as a performer while still reflecting Velma’s vulnerability. Yeakley, filling Funny Honey with a pleasant country twang near the outset, shrewdly embraces Roxie as a cold-hearted killer empowered and reveling in her celebratory rise as the Windy City’s latest craze even as she is doted on by her hopelessly gullible husband Amos (endearing Aaron Brewer) and spars with hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Steven Lakes, vocally strong yet lacking in layers and specificity). Her playful rendition of Roxie, which includes a fantastic monologue detailing the character’s adulterous backstory, is a particular highlight.
In addition: Jeannine Geise is a delightfully crass Matron Mama Morton (her brutally blunt rendition of Class opposite Hylinski is wonderfully lyric-driven and sarcastic); Donna Cason keeps the action humming in her central role as Emcee; The Cell Block Tango, one of many flavorful Fosse-inspired routines admirably choreographed by Kara Castle, is terrifically rendered by Lily Newman (Mona), Morgan Gruet (Annie), Ryann Davis (June), and Madison Stapleton (Liz) along with the aforementioned Hylinksi and Castle (Hunyak) who are all costumed seductively by Olivia Dakin; standout ensemble members Jeremy Smith (Fogarty/Harrison) and William Boatwright, Jr. (Harry/Aaron) are great assets in spirit, tone and movement; Tim Fingerle (Fred Casely) proves prominent in flashback during Roxie’s climatic trial; Xander Hildenbrandt is a fittingly fiery Go to Hell Kitty; and Megan Blitz, Lauren Ping, and Allie Staples nicely complement as featured dancers. However, as newspaper reporter Mary Sunshine, Jordan Mckinniss stumbles within the tricky parameters of spoof, specifically lacking authenticity and vocal finesse to properly sell the role and its duality. Trust me: A Little Bit of Good is one of the finest character-specific songs in the Kander and Ebb canon and deserves a far better treatment than exhibited here.
In a unique departure from the standard jailhouse setting, director Jenni Cypher frames the show inside a period nightclub, designed by Wayne Myers complete with tables and bar. It’s an interesting concept at times refreshing but occasionally muddled, particularly Act 1 finale My Own Best Friend, a defiant number devoted to Roxie and Velma’s decision to rely on no one but themselves that gets deflated as Hylinski and Yeakley stroll across the stage as some sort of lounge act to satisfy customers. On the other hand, Cypher’s choice to bring the overwhelming fury of The Cell Block Tango directly into the audience notably appeals. Her production team includes music director Judy Mansky, lighting and sound designer Jason Vogel, and properties master Kurt Cypher.
We can learn a lot from the corruption, betrayal, lies, and treachery that make Roxie and Velma household names. With Hylinksi and Yeakley firmly in the driver’s seat, this cautionary tale rightfully stings with relevancy. Buckle up.
Chicago continues through Nov. 17 at Springboro Community Theatre, 115 Wright Station Way, Springboro. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $20 for adults; $18 for seniors, students, military, and groups. For tickets or more information, call (888) 262-3792 or visit borotheatre.org. Patrons are advised the show contains adult language/situations.