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THEATER REVIEW: SDMT’s “Chicago” at Birch North Park Theater

Ah, the Roaring Twenties, when the Capone gang ruled Chicago, Prohibition brought speakeasies, and mouthy flappers in short hair and short skirts were in abundance.

Some of those women, taking advantage of the easy availability of hardware, wiped out their philandering (or simply annoying) spouses or boyfriends, landing in prison. Now they sing us their stories from the women’s cell block in the Cook County jail, under the watchful eye of Matron “Mama” Morton (Ria Carey).

“Chicago,” the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, gets a sparkling production from San Diego Musical Theatre through March 3 at Birch North Park Theatre.

Ron Kellum directs a terrific cast that can do it all: act, sing those great songs, and perform Randy Slovacek’s muscular and athletic choreography with jaw-dropping agility – sometimes all at once.

Inmate Velma Kelly (Kyra da Costa) has plans for a return to vaudeville, and Mama Morton has helped her become the celebrity murderess of the week. With “All That Jazz,” she welcomes us to Chicago and the bars “where the gin is cold but the piano’s hot.”

When newcomer Roxie Hart (Emma Radwick) hits the scene, with her great blonde looks and body to match, it’s instant rivalry. And when Roxie gets her “Funny Honey” Amos (Jason James) to hire sleazoid defense attorney Billy Flynn (Robert J. Townsend), we’re in for a media battle between the two jailbirds.

It’s a great story and a terrific show, and SDMT does it justice. The women are especially strong here.

Radwick may be the best Roxie ever, with her clear, strong soprano voice, and da Costa is the perfect match with her strong and rich mezzo. Both can sing, act and dance – and make it all look easy – and it’s a pleasure to watch them.

Carey’s Mama Morton, who wields the real power in the cell block, is delicious to watch as she demands her pound of flesh for whatever favors the inmates request.

James’ nebbishy Amos is a fine actor, though his “Mister Cellophane” number didn’t quite make me tear up as it usually does.

Townsend could look a bit sleazier, but he too is a fine performer and gets his points across.

Kudos also to Conductor Don Le Master and the fine 13-member orchestra, which plays from the stage as if this were a big band concert.

The Birch has many drawbacks as a theater, but there are no problems with this fine “Chicago” production.

The details

“Chicago” plays through March 3 at Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., North Park.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.