Sinfully fun, ‘Chicago’ opens Barn Players newest stage

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By Bob Evans

Dynamic performances, outstanding script, fantastic music, gorgeous orchestration and accompaniment, sexy costumes, rat-a-tat-tat tapping, splendid vocal performances, strong choreography, sound directing–all add up to invigorating evening and a trip to the dark side of Chicago in the 1920s as murder and sleaze grip the city.

For their first production, The Barn Players selected the blockbuster Broadway hit, “Chicago” with its sexy, provocative costumes, steamy story, and scintillating sinners to welcome audiences to their new facility. What an outstanding choice by The Barn’s board to choose one of Broadway longest running musical comedies for their first Arts Asylum show. “Chicago” has amassed nearly 9,000 performances, including its first run and the revival that currently continues.

“With a darkly comic book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, and unforgettable music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, “Chicago” is now the #1 longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Set in the rip-roaring 1920s, “Chicago” tells the story of Roxie Hart, a part-time nightclub hoofer who in a fit of rage kills her lover after he leaves her. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes her jailhouse rival Velma Kelly, and the whole Windy City by hiring the area’s slickest lawyer to engineer her crime into an onslaught of misleading, sensational newspaper headlines,” The Barn Players said.

The story evolved from Roxy Hart, a movie starring Ginger Rogers about a string of murders committed in Chicago in the 1920 and the press accounts that followed, specifically by, Mary Sunshine, a local newspaper reporter. The sensational stories generated interest and readership, driving daily newspaper sales and demand for more and juicier stories.

In “Chicago” Roxy Hart (Ramsey Self) and Velma Kelly (Krista Eyler), another local murderess engage in a publicity war to sensationalize their stories prior to their court date and pin their hopes on freedom and then stardom after their release. After all, Chicago has never hanged a woman before…but, there always a first time. All records eventually fall.

“Chicago” opens with a bang…actually several…as lead characters Roxy shoots her back-street lover, Fred Casely and Velma recounts her double murder of her husband and her sister. From there, the musical continues to cast the story of the two femme fatales as the audience delves deeper into their history. But, to add to the story, a crooked lawyer, known for shady deals, undertaking big cases to further his own name and celebrity, Billy Flynn (Nick Uthoff) uses both murderesses to bolster his name and salary demands.

In the past few seasons, The Barn Players end their season with a lavish musical pared down to fit into the former venue space. Expect bigger and grander production now that Arts Asylum hosts The Barn Players. “Chicago” guarantees huge interest and The Barn Players prepared to debut on their new venue with flash and power. They did.

“Chicago” features some of the best local talent, with strong solo voices for the main and featured players, great acting by the non-singing parts, and the choreography and dancing in “Chicago” makes the audience take notice from the opening number through the final curtain bow. But, wait. The exit music and the artistry of the band continues after the lights come up. Those who rush out before the band finishes will miss out on some of the jazzy music of “Chicago.”

Audiences will recognize many familiar faces, but in different characters in “Chicago,” but pay attention to the fresh faces. They will return in subsequent Barn productions.

Not only is the singing and acting splendid, the technical pieces flow with the program in all creative aspects. The musical direction of Martha Risser could not be better conducted or better performed. As a regular attendee to many productions around town, this is the best sound design I have experienced in The Arts Asylum. The new auditorium space gave the site a huge boost. Now, resolving past sound problems, “Chicago” resonates through the space like none before it. The lighting for this production also adds a new layer to what The Barn could do in its previous space. Quality is the name of the game with “Chicago.”

“Chicago” opened March 1, produced by The Barn Players, as they initial their new abode, The Arts Asylum, just a few blocks east and north of the Power and Light District. For those coming to the venue for the first time, The Arts Asylum is just off Admiral Boulevard and Highway 71, generally.

“Chicago,” at the Arts Asylum, by the Barn Players is being directed by Kipp Simmons; with musical direction by Martha Risser; and choreography by Valerie Martin. The cast is: Krista Eyler as Velma Kelly; Ramsey Self as Roxie Hart; Nick Uthoff as Billy Flynn; J.C. Dresslaer as Matron “Mama” Morton; Dudley Hogue as Amos Hart; J. Coombes as Mary Sunshine; Dan Heinz as the Master of Ceremonies; and, Eric Magnus as the Character Man. The Cook County Merry Murderesses are: Jessica Alcorn, Pancha Brown, Stasha Case, Natalie Dickter, Zoe London, Natalie Rothfusz. Ensemble support is being provided by: Paul Brennan, Brenna Castor, Meaghan Coble, Tony Console, Christoph Cording, Alex Gumminger, Dalton Homolka, Sharon Johnson, Christoph Nevins, Rob Reeder, Kyle Tichenor, and Miles Wirth.

The production crew is: MacKenzie Sammons, stage management & lighting design; Jonathon Antile, rehearsal accompaniment; Fran Kapono-Kuzila, costume design; Jessica Alcorn, hair & makeup design; Kipp Simmons, set design; Bill Wright, set fabrication; Sean Leistico, sound design; and, Amanda Rhodes, props & assistant stage management.

The band, directed by Martha Risser is:  Keyboards, Jonathon Antle, Michelle McIntire, Todd Gregory-Gibbs; Drums, Blake Vignery; Bass, Frank Annecchini; Reeds, Drew Spencer (bell, piccolo, clarinet, alto sax); Debbie Allen (piccolo, clarinet, tenor sax); Danielle Mays (bass clarinet, bassoon, clarinet, baritone sax); Trumpet, Andrew Beckstrom, Cynthia Hartwell; Trombone, Lee Finch.:
“Chicago” continues weekends through March 11. Even though Arts Asylum seats more than The Barn Players former home, ticket demand will be strong. Advance purchase is suggested to avoid sold out performances. Also, parking is premium, so plan ahead. Limited street parking is available to early arrivals. Handicapped accessible entrance is located in back of the Arts Asylum for those with a handicapped placard or license plate. A free public parking lot for Arts Asylum lies across the street to the south and behind an older building. The gated, monitored lot is only a few yards from the theatre. Tickets for “Chicago” can be purchased through The Barn Players website.

Performances for “Chicago” run Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30, Sunday matinees at 2pm. Ticket prices are: Adults $20; Senior (Age 65+) $18.; Group tickets of 10 or more are $15 each; Students (with ID) tickets are $15. Tickets online at The Barn Players website, by phone at 913.432.9100, or at the Barn’s box office. Cash and credit cards are accepted.
Tags: “Chicago”, The Barn Players, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Arts Asylum

Images courtesy of The Barn Players, Vida Bikales and The Barn Players and Bob Evans

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