May 12, 2011 | by David J. Hoffman
Murder at St. Mark’s

The St. Marks players in rehearsal for ‘Chicago.’ (Blade photo by Michael Key)

‘Chicago’
music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb
based on book by Ebb and Bob Fosse
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
4 p.m. Sunday
thru May 21
St. Mark’s Players
3rd and A Streets, S.E.
Washington
Tickets $20 ($18 seniors and students)
202-546-9670 or visit stmarksplayers.org

The Tony Award winning “Chicago: The Musical” — with its heart of purest bile, its lyrics by Fred Ebb, and its music by John Kander — mocks everything we claim to value in life (truth, love, justice, you name it). On the Capitol Hill stage of the St. Mark’s Players, consistently one of the area’s sharpest community theaters, it’s here through May 21.

This “Chicago” with its iconic choreography by Bob Fosse and later Ann Reinking is stylishly restaged by director Rick Hayes and choreographer Rikki Howie, sharply punched up with jokes and sight gags to fit this top-notch production neatly into the historic church’s tall-ceilinged but narrow nave. But it delivers the same signature Kander and Ebb tap-dance around a seedy world of jail cells, its story forever doomed.

The satirical story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, and how they beat their respective murder raps, has been told many times before. At St. Mark’s it is staged with all the famed double-snap, wise crackle and syncopated pop that this show can be at its best.

Billy Flynn is portrayed by Eric Kennedy, who packs the part with animal appeal — a wolf’s whistle, a fox’s morals and a cat’s grin of self-satisfaction. Kennedy, who’s gay, imbues Billy with oodles of smarm and charm in the key role as the mercenary mouthpiece for the murderesses. But he’s more than being both sleazy and sleek in the role — Kennedy also has a great voice and a fine soft shoe to go with dark good looks.

Attention must also be paid to the three women playing the two roles of Velma and Roxie. Anya Nebel is Velma, with the voice and the lung power to belt it out and the comic tease to add sparkle to the part. Sharing the role of Roxie on different nights are the equally talented Kim Pyle (May 13-15) and choreographer Howie herself (May 20-21). All three ladies bring a comic sensibility as well as the chops and gams to sing and dance and just the right mix of curve, verve and nerve as they shimmy and shake and bring high-kicking whoopee to their dreams of making it big in show business.

Also noteworthy is Genevieve Williams as their jailor, Mama Morton, with her deep rumble of a contralto voice. With heavy hints that she is lesbian (Billy calls her “butch”),  there’s real spice in this Mama’s gumbo.

Heather Cipu also deserves notice — she shines as Mary Sunshine, hitting every high note with her operetta-soprano ode to saccharine, “A Little Bit of Good,” though later she drops the goodie-two-shoes image and matronly frock to reveal a very different persona underneath. Finally, there is Stephen Yednock as poor, put-upon Amos Hart, the one and only decent person, Roxie’s good-natured but basically dimwitted husband who is prepared at every turn to take the fall for her if he can. Yednock brings real feeling to several songs, especially his solo lament, “Mister Cellophane.”

This staging of “Chicago” is simply great right down to the terrific ensemble who among them function like a chorus, singing and dancing different roles, including the females in a first-rate “Cell Block Tango,” wicked and wonderful in red lips and black leather, and in the opening song, “All That Jazz.” Other show-stoppers include “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “Nowadays.” Special kudos go to the show’s director, Rick Hayes, also the Players’ artistic director, and as the musical director, the veteran musician J. N. Wickert III, at the baton of an 11-piece orchestra. Both are gay, as is the Players’ president Jerry Dale Jr., who also serves as stage manager for this show.

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