Britta Ollmann and Michelle de Joya in Theater Latté Da’s production of Chicago. Photo by Dan Norman.
You never know what you’re going to get with Ebb, Fosse, and Kander’s musical Chicago. Some productions are downright joyful, some are dark, and others morbid. Theater Latté Da’s new production, which opened last night at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, whacks the satire button with a hammer and then machineguns it for good measure. If the goal was to highlight parallels between the show’s plot and contemporary’s celebrity justice injustices, director Peter Rothstein has indubitably succeeded.
Whether or not this vision factored into the rather limp, overly slow opening isn’t clear. However, the song tempos in Chicago generally got faster as the evening went by, which suggests that this may be a temporary issue as the show settles in. More of a lasting concern are the many ensemble excursions into the audience, most of which feel so brief that they’re perfunctory. Latté Da’s recent Hedwig production used this interaction well, to great imminent and dynamic effect. This time, however, it’s generally more distracting than engaging in this production. A device that works better are the on-stage seats, which are definitely where it’s at and the best seats in the theatre. Choose your seat wisely and you can practically stare down into the pit and see music director Denise Prosek and the rest of the pit quintet in a whirlwind of work.
The dueling female leads in this production are Britta Ollmann (as Roxie Hart) and Michelle de Joya (as Velma Kelly). Ollmann slings biting zingers like nobody’s business, and de Joya shines especially in the growing desperation of “I Can’t Do It Alone”. A steal-the-show performance is delivered by Reed Sigmund as Amos Hart, Roxie’s much-taken-advantage of husband. Sigmund’s “Mister Cellophane” will make you tear up and reminds you that, yes, there are real people caught up in the devastation and repercussions of celebrity justice. If that’s an argument for making musicals resonate with contemporary events, this is a winning one.
Theater Latté Da’s production of Chicago runs through November 3 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.