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Thingamajig Theatre Company summer season opens with ‘Chicago’

A mere 12 days after Thingamajig Theatre Company closed its immensely successful and well received, “Doubt: a Parable,” the company presents the first of its three highly-anticipated summer shows, “Chicago,” opening June 15 at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

The show runs alternating weeks in rep with “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown!” (a wonderful family friendly musical), which opens the following Friday and concludes with “The Last Five Years,” opening in September.

In 1969, Gwen Verdon secured the rights to produce a musical version of “Chicago” and contacted Bob Fosse to develop the show. Coming to an agreement, they brought it to the song writing team of Fred Ebb and John Kander, who Fosse had worked with on the film version of Cabaret. It was Ebb’s idea to tell the story in the language of vaudeville, not only to establish period, but also create the metaphor of show business as life, a metaphor Fosse had become obsessed with. (In fact, the show’s title has a double meaning because there was an actual vaudeville theatre called The Chicago.) With Verdon playing Roxie, they cast Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn, and Barney Martin as Amos Hart.

 Though Fosse had always had a very dark side that expressed itself in his work (see the movie of “Cabaret” or a good production of “Pippin”), that dark side was now getting significantly darker because of an operation he’d undergone to prevent an impending heart attack. Eventually, Fosse was convinced by Kander and Ebb that the show was too dark and he re-staged major portions of it. Despite some minor out-of-town troubles, the show came to New York in good shape, and it opened in 1975. The show garnered 11 Tony nominations, but lost all of them to “A Chorus Line.”

In 1992, Ann Reinking choreographed “Chicago” for the Civic Light Opera of Long Beach. A few years later, the Encores! Series in New York asked Reinking and director/performer Walter Bobbie to stage a concert reading of “Chicago.” It was so well received that it was transferred in 1996, with virtually no changes, into a Broadway house for a regular run. Reinking used Fosse’s dance vocabulary for the choreography, but took a different, much lighter approach to the material. But in this newer version, the show was taken out of its period context and much of Fosse’s nastiness and brutal but legitimate cynicism was rejected in favor of a more light-hearted feel. The rebirth of “Chicago” enjoyed immense success, winning six Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical) and recently became the fourth longest running musical of all time.

In 1996, New York Times Theatre Critic Ben Brantley wrote, “Who would have thought there could be such bliss in being played for a patsy?”  In “Chicago,” Fosse uses show business as a metaphor for life, and so the show as a whole, the very fact that an audience was in a theatre watching a performance, became a self-referential metaphor in and of itself. Thingamajig Theatre embraces Ms. Reinking and Mr. Bobbie’s re-creation of “Chicago” — showing us a more light-hearted, audience friendly offering of Fosse’s original production and does a fine job recreating what you might see if you were to spend a night at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway.

To return to the actual show, “Chicago,” let us hope that it runs forever, as audiences will be dazzled and professionally entertained. Marcelina Chavira (Roxie Hart) dances with remarkable flexibility and coyness, while employing a darling accent. Alyse Neubert (Velma Kelly) shows off a powerful voice and can move her head and every joint and limb in any direction she pleased. Tim Moore (Billy Flynn) is superb as the charismatic and clever lawyer, both engaging and energetic. Billy Pinto as Mr. Cellophane, the husband, is charming in his slow, but soulful song and gives us a stunning dance routine that most Amos’ can only hope to achieve. Sara Swift, as Matron “Mama” Morton of the prison, is totally confident and seasoned. Ammon Swofford is a complete surprise and, like all the other stars, just mentioned, gives us a bravura performance.

 Thingamajig’s production follows the 1996 revival’s lead trimming down everything from scenery and props to the actor’s costuming. Laura Moore directs and stages a well-paced, immensely entertaining group of young actors. Alyse Neubert gives us plenty of sex and sizzle both as Velma and choreographer for the production. Las Vegas scenic designer John Santangelo recreates a modern day vaudevillian stage that functions with simplicity and effectiveness. Nationally acclaimed lighting designer Jacob Welch recreates a stunning vision of Chicago skyline and immerses us in everything from the smoky speakeasy to the dysfunctional courtroom with subtlety. Award-winning costume designer Jasin Wiener has tipped his hat to William Ivy Long’s revival creations, while adding some high fashion twists of his own. The production is unlike anything Thingamajig has staged before, adding many new faces to the stage and behind the scenes while providing the same level of quality and commitment to excellence Thingamajig patrons have come to expect. Run to Thingamajig’s production and buy a ticket to see “Chicago.” You’ll only be sorry if you miss this one.

Thingamajig Theatre Company’s “Chicago,” directed by Laura Moore, choreographed by Alyse Neubert, opens June 15 and runs through Aug. 12.

The show is appropriate for mature audiences.

Tickets to the Champagne Opening June 15 are $30 in advance or $35 at the door. All other performances are $20 in advance or $25 at the door and tickets can be secured by visiting www.pagosacenter.org or calling 731-SHOW. 2012 Summer Season tickets are available through June 14; call or visit the website for details. Thingamajig Theatre Company is located at 2313 Eagle Drive, within the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts.

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