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A new producing group in LA has managed to snatch the rights to the long-running Broadway hit Chicago. The group calls itself Musical Theatre of Los Angeles and is dedicated to "provide an outlet for West Coast musical theatre talent, and, in turn, an opportunity for our members to share their knowledge through our youth outreach performing arts program." The result is a highly professional production of this hit musical, especially by LA's small (99 seats) theatre standards. First and foremost there is a ten-piece orchestra, unheard of in these venues but gladly welcome to those of us who like to hear Broadway music only slightly amplified. Joe Greene is the musical director.

Jeremy Lucas, who was in a national tour of Chicago, directs and choreographs. While basically recreating the choreography of Bob Fosse, Lucas has also incorporated large chunks of the choreography by Anne Reinking from the current Broadway revival. He also incorporates many of Rob Marshall's dance steps from the movie version, and adds some of his own invention. The result is one hell of a dancing show.

Many in the cast are first rate, and all are to be praised for carrying out the complicated choreography. Katrina Lenk, who plays Velma, could step onto the Broadway stage now and star in the show. She is a consummate dancer and a sultry singer with good acting chops. Not far behind is Bonnie McMahon as Roxie. I like her acting and her dancing, though the orchestra did swallow her voice at times.

Though he wouldn't be my first choice for the role, David Pevsner plays Flynn with dash. The audience loved him, as they did Amy K. Murray as Mama with her strong belt. One of my favorite performances was by John Paul Burkhart as Amos, Roxie's "cellophane" husband. The Mary Sunshine of Willam Belli just didn't work for me. There are a number of chorus members who stood out. I didn't catch all of their names, but Nikki Tomlinson, Velma's understudy, is someone to watch - I saw her in Tip Toes at another venue and never forgot her.

Chicago has not been available for production outside New York, but now, Musical Theatre of Los Angeles has produced the first staging outside of Broadway and the results are fully professional. Go see this amazing production at the Hudson Backstage Theatre before it disappears January 12th.

Reviewed by Robert Machray


CHICAGO The Musical

Murder, greed and corruption strike the Southland, and for once it has nothing to do with Scientology. This month the Fosse-loving wet dream Chicago premieres thanks to the the newly-minted Musical Theatre of Los Angeles. This ambitious production is the jazz-hot brainchild of MTLA co-founders Jeremy Lucas and Bonnie McMahan, who double-time as the showís director and protagonist Roxy, respectively. RealGayLA sat down with the Razzle Dazzling duo as they discussed their show, the state of L.A.ís musical theatre scene and all that jazz.

Weíve seen the movie version of Chicago and myriad stage productions. How is yours different?

BM: Itís a fusion of the movie and the stage show. Those familiar with the movie will be expecting that pizazz, while the stage show is typically much more pared down.

JL: We decided to stay true to the darkness of the Broadway revival production.

Is it difficult putting up such a well-known show with so many expectations?

JL: No, because the cast is amazing. Our Billy Flynn, David Pevsner, was in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Katrina Lenk, our Velma, was in Will & Grace, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and Lost Land with John Malkovich. Ö It holds up to the movie. Its a nice marriage between the original Fosse, some touring productions, the revival and my own ideas.

Jeremy, as Artistic Director, and Bonnie, as Executive Director, why did you found MTLA?

BM: Frustration. I wanted to do great theatre in this town and found that good musicals were hard to find. And when they did exist, it was usually a weird version that didnít stay true to the material. When I met Jeremy we put our heads together. Being granted the rights to Chicago confirmed that we were meant to be doing this. No one gets to do this show.

JL: Because Broadway is on strike*, we are the only company in the nation doing Chicago. Another reason we started the company is not wanting to live in New York Ė I like Los Angeles a lot and wanted a place to do musical theatre here.

BM: With shows like Wicked, itís all touring companies Ė thereís nothing in town. There are so many talented Equity actors doing film and television who need to stay in L.A., but if they do want to theatre they typically have to go on the road.

JL: Thereís such a need for it.

What does your production have to say to an L.A.-based audience?

JL: I donít think anyone understands the show Chicago like someone from L.A. because of the want and need for fame.

Bonnie, what was the most challenging part of embodying Roxy.

BM: Acting as a producer. It has been hard not being able to focus on one thing.

Did you invoke any previous incarnations of Roxy when preparing for the role?

BM: I really like Renee Zellwegerís version. It was less musical and more about the character and acting. I also really enjoy the Roxy from the London cast [Ruthie Henshaw]. I take bits from different versions and have my own take on it.

JL: Thatís the great thing about Chicago. Thereís so many great sources.

So, how are you like Roxy?

BM: Mainly the love and need to perform. Fame? Not so much. Thatís two different things. Bonnie loves to perform Ė Roxy just wants to be famous.

Whatís the biggest highlight of being Roxy?

BM: The courtroom scene. Jeremyís direction is amazing. Itís hysterical.

Jeremy, you are the director, the choreographer and an accomplished actor. What role do you most prefer?

JL: Acting! I love directing, thatís fun, too. Iím not so much into choreography as I used to be. Acting is my first love. Itís the first thing I ever did when I was 7. Although I did a basement production with the kids in my neighborhood, so I guess I had a little director in me, too.

You both worked together in The Wild Party at the Met. How was that?

BM: We learned a lot. It was the first time I put my producer hat on. It was a warm-up to this experience.

JL: It was the same team, but it wasnít our company so we didnít get to call all the shots.

BM: It snowballed from there. It was time to do it on our own.

Where do you see MTLA going in 2008?

BM: Weíd like to have a season. We have the rights to a bunch of shows and will definitely have something up by the fall.

What does your production have to offer the gays of LA?

JL: One thing I really disagreed with in the movie was casting Christine Baranski in the role of Mary Sunshine. Donít get me wrong Ė she was great, but Mary Sunshine should be played by a gender illusionist. In our production, we have the fantastic William Belli [who played Nip/Tuckís transsexual Cherry Peck].

BM: Itís a hot show, itís for everyone. Gay or straight.

Any final words for our readers?

BM: Support L.A.-based musicals. Come out and support us.

Posted by Michael Ciriaco
Editor: Matt Falber

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