Chicago hits the new stage at the Barn

Since their landlord decided not to renew their lease, the Barn Players had to find a new home. After much searching, they have found a home in the Arts Asylum at 9th and Harrison in Kansas City, MO. This is a big move because it’s near downtown, miles from their old home. With any move there are challenges, but the Barn has done a great job dealing with them.

The first thing for you to know it so arrive EARLY the first time as there are one ways and construction that will slow you down. Street parking fills up fast, but there is a parking lot behind the KC Masonic Temple off Harrison just south of 9th where you can park (click here for the map). I saw the lot, but wasn’t certain I could park there so I suggest they put some sort of signage up for patrons to know it’s fine to park there. If you need to drop someone off, there is a drop off area kept open right in front of the theater, but then you’ll have to navigate a few one way streets to get to the lot. It’s easy once you figure it out.

The theater itself is a nice space. It has tall ceilings and ample seating. For Chicago, director Kipp Simmons opted for some tables for the floor for audience members. If you sit there, there is some interaction during the show but nothing to make even a shy person uncomfortable. The regular seating is a bit tight with leg room and there is no center entrance to the seats so if you sit near center and need to get up, you’ll have to slide past a lot of people. However, there are no bad seats so if you don’t want to get to know your fellow patrons quite so well and don’t mind getting up to let other pass, sit near the outside.

Chicago is a highly stylized show originally choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse. Set in the roaring 20’s it follows the plight of Roxy Hart, Velma Kelly and the other women who are incarcerated for the murder of their lovers. It has a soap opera feel to it as the women vie for status by playing for the media.

Roxy Hart (Ramsey Self), a married woman, shoots her lover in cold blood and lets her wimpy husband Amos (Dudley Hogue) claim it was self defense. That works fine until the detective identifies the man and Amos realizes he’s been played. Roxie becomes an immediate headline sensation as she gets locked up in the women’s prison. Self plays Hart well as the manipulative vixen with dreams only she knows. She’s appropriately cute and sassy, but we miss some of the more manipulative flavors. Hogue provides a solid performance as the downtrodden Amos who is easily manipulated.

Velma Kelly (Krista Eyler) is the current cell block star with a great defense attorney and plan for freedom. As such, she holds the top spot in prison. Her high powered attorney Billy Flynn (Nick Uthoff) is skilled at creating sensational tactics to free his clients. As it’s the roaring 20’s in Chicago, that requires playing and schmoozing the gossiping media like Mary Sunshine (Jay Coombes) to sway the public in their favor by an means necessary. Eyler delivers with her prima donna attitude and desire for stardom. We enjoy watching her desperation as her star fades. Uthoff’s entrance as the larger than life schemer Flynn with “All I Care About” is perfect. It sets the stage that it’s all about money, fame and Billy. His performance falters somewhat as the show continues due to the rapid delivery of his lines. I would have loved to have seen him slow down a bit and let us see more of the internal machinations as he takes advantage of the situations rather than just the final results.

The shows subject matter feels so contemporary as it moves through it’s paces. Our “news” has become more gossip than factual and Chicago defines that if you manipulate the system, you may literally get away with murder. Some other fun performances include the Murderesses ( Natalie Dickter, Natalie Rothfusz, Stasha Case, Jessica Alcorn, Zoe London and Pancha Brown) as they tell their story of how they murdered their lovers in Cell Block Tango and Jay Coombes who plays Mary Sunshine in drag, which is the standard for the role.

Director Kipp Simmons has created a great speak easy feel to the show. It moves well and the actors have all created strong characters that mesh well together. There is a risk of going over the top with this show, but he has effectively walked the line.

Under the musical direction of Martha Risser, the cast all sounded strong which is what we have come to expect at the Barn. However, the show fell short on the impact that these songs require. Perhaps the band being on stage created some of the issue and the levels for Roxy were particularly low so her voice got lost at times. I’m sure they will grow into it as the show continues its run. Speaking of the orchestra, it was exceptional. They sounded amazing and deserved their own bow.

Chicago is all about flash and sizzle. It’s well known for it’s stylistic dance numbers. Choreographer Valerie Martin infuses some Fosse moves into her numbers as an homage but makes it her own at the same time. Martin created choreography that is well suited and well executed by the cast even though they aren’t highly accomplished dancers. She played to their strengths and it’s entertaining, but lacked the complexity and energy to carry some of the longer numbers that require significant dance skills.

Overall, the Barn has created a really enjoyable evening with Chicago. I think their new home is worth the trek for their patrons and for those who are close to downtown, make it a point to stop in and get to know this long established company in their new setting. Chicago plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2pm through March 11th.  For more information or to get tickets go to KC Stage.

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