Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
If you really love musicals and can’t get enough of them this summer, the relatively new group SPARE (Singers Performers Actors Repertory Entertainment) has put together an energetic production of Chicago, the long-running Broadway show by Fred Ebb (book and lyrics), Bob Fosse (book) and John Kander (music).
The three-performance run began last night (July 8) in the Helen Foley Theatre at Binghamton High School, but make no mistake: This is not a high school production, although it does look like one in spots. Young people interested in theater have been given a great opportunity by SPARE, and this production gives them the chance to hone their craft. (Note: It appears that, in Binghamton, far more young women are inclined to strut their stuff — and strut it they do.)
Chicago, in case you forgot, is about that lawless Midwestern city in the Roaring Twenties and includes jazz, murder, mayhem, debauchery, adultery, bootlegging, betrayal and all the crassness a show can pack into two long acts, so being in the mood for it is key here to enjoying every tawdry moment.
“All that Jazz” is the well-known tone-setting opener. The company is led by Brittany Miller’s feisty Velma, an inmate at a women’s prison who is awaiting her murder trial. Miller has a powerful voice and great stage presence, and she gets several chances to show it off in Chicago.
But hers is just one of several really solid performances. Lyndsey Boyer as the beautiful murdering redhead, Roxie, is a graceful dancer with good vocal chops. Alery Patton’s choreography is fun to watch if a bit limited by space.
Tony DeLouisa is slick as the pricey lawyer, Billy Flynn, who uses questionable tactics to get his clients out of their murder raps. DeLouisa has a well-trained voice, and it stands out in this female-heavy production.
Mike Ferguson’s Amos, Roxie’s wronged, milquetoast, inelegant husband, got a couple “awwws” from the audience, sympathetic to his cause. The lower his self esteem falls, the more lovable he becomes, but sadly, not by Roxie.
Megan MarkAnthony is funny as Matron “Mama” Morton, whose attentions toward her girls in lockup are not exactly motherly. She has a great singing voice, but she needs to settle on just one accent for the speaking parts of the role.
Clair Gerchman is the prissy, gullible reporter, Mary Sunshine. She does a fine job with her solo, “A Little Bit of Good.” Providing scene segues as the Master of Ceremonies is John Van Atta, who does double duty as Sergeant Fogarty.
Most of the actors had to do it all, with quick costume changes and prop business in the numerous ensemble numbers. Fellow inmates in the slammer where Roxie and Velma await their trials include Liz, Annie, June, Hunyak and Mona/Go to Hell Kitty. They are played respectively by Emily Frederick, Lily Woughter, Shannah Hall, Julia Adams, and Julia McCloe. Fleshing out the ensemble were William Hernandez-Hulbert, Meredith Starks and Zariah Walton.
Fred Casely is played by Darius Fuller, who did a lot behind the scenes. Catherine Carter produced the show, while Fuller is the associate producer, assistant stage manager and assistant technical director. A tremendous amount of behind-the scenes work went into SPARE’s Chicago, including by director John Penird and assistant director Karen Moffitt, who are blessed with a passionate, lively cast.
Music directors Joshua Vanderslice and Katie O’Brien furnish a wonderful live soundtrack with a 15-piece orchestra who interact at times with the actors on the stage. Their performances of each number were stellar. Canaan Harris was the rehearsal accompanist.
The program does not mention a set designer, but Kassidy Shea is listed as the stage manager/props master, Rich Ives as technical director and Courtney Cavallo as lighting designer, assisted by Ben MarkAnthony.
Caileen Harvey and Autumn Calgary were the co-costumiers, and their work required a bit of ingenuity and creativity. Yes, I know that sex is a main component of the story, but if you do plan to place a line of lovely young women right at the front of the stage where the light is the brightest, and you plan to dress them in faux leather bustiers, bikini bottoms and torn fishnets, please … for the sake of the “hearts in the audience not healthy enough for sex,” maybe dim the lights just a little or add some strategically placed swatches of fabric.
Lighting Designer Cavallo’s work with silhouettes and a red-lit backdrop work best for the bump and grind stuff. Carl Beno’s hair and makeup designs also work very well.
One hint: We were taught in college acting class that actors in various stages of undress at the close of a show should don a robe or street clothes before sauntering out to find their folks in the lobby, the rationale being that the illusion is not broken by an actor who has not yet returned to their real-life persona before emerging from backstage.
SPARE describes itself as “young, talented, and fun community theatre in Binghamton. ‘Professional amateurs’ as our founding vice-president put it.”
The group has come a long way since I saw their members perform The Drowsy Chaperone two summers ago in Hillcrest, where the technical components and physical space were difficult to work with. I think it’s fair to say that they have a little farther to go before they can say they are closer to professional than amateur. Four years into their existence, they’re getting there.
Oh, and it’s a bonus that on this very warm weekend, that they are in the beautiful air-conditioned Helen Foley Theatre, second floor of Binghamton High School.
IF YOU GO: Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday (July 9 and 10) at Binghamton High School, Main and Oak streets, Binghamton. Tickets at $12 (seniors/students,$10) can be reserved by emailing SPARE at firstname.lastname@example.org or can be purchased at the door.