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Review: Mesa Encore Theatre’s ‘Chicago’ worth seeing at Mesa Arts Center this month

Cast from left: Nicholas Gunnel (Mary Sunshine), Savannah Alfred (Momma Morton), Chad Campbell (Amos Hart), Kara Marzulo (Roxie Hart), Chris Fidler (Billy Flynn), and Laura Anne Kenney (Velma Kelly). (Candy Thornton/Easel Photography)

Mesa Encore Theatre’s “Chicago” is a fast-paced plot told by skillful performers, that is well worth seeing.

The show began with actors moving quickly across stage, holding props and moving in ways that would foreshadow what would be seen later on.

This moment would be interesting to reflect on once the curtains came down, though there would be no time then as the sultry dance moves accompanied by vocals piped in by microphones quickly began.

A live band, placed at the heart of the show was half hidden but still easily heard and noticed; a good thing given the talent the band demonstrated.

Roxie Hart, played by Kara Marzulo kicked the show off with her rendition of “Funny Honey,” which was beautifully performed.

The set design was minimalist, a few boxes comprised of metal bars with stairs attached where the ensemble and those actors not currently singing would gather around were the most prominent feature.

I thought that the presence of the stairs was a nice touch, it served to add the ability of vertical movement for the actors, making them stand out at times when there were many on stage at once.

The lighting elevated the visual aspect of the play, with bars of shadow cast by an unseen light expanding the dimensions of the set artificially and evoking an enclosed cell block as one notable example.

When “Cell Block Tango” began another interesting lighting effect is employed, with the shadow forms of dancers cast against the backdrop acting out the murders that were simultaneously being described by the various inmates on stage.

The ensemble cast was great at selling the various scenes of the musical, while keeping the interest of the audience with constant motion and a solid range of voices sung in chorus.

There were times that some of the crass humor failed to hit the mark, but more often than not it was given spot on delivery and had the whole crowd react.

Nicholas Gunnell as M. Sunshine was particularly effective, his put on feminine voice drew many belly laughs from the audience.

The plot was moved along by actors coming to the stage holding newspapers, announcing upcoming songs to be performed as if they were headlines being read aloud.

This theme of the story being driven by journalists was present throughout the production.

The costumes illustrated clearly either what character was being portrayed, or what was going on in the story at the time.

The song that stuck with me the most was Chad Campbell’s Amos, momentarily in the spotlight for “Mr. Cellophane.”

I found myself humming the tune for a few days after watching the performance, and though there weren’t any songs I disliked in the show this one stood out to me and ensured that I would know his name even after the show ended.

This production of “Chicago” should draw favorable comparisons to any that one might have seen prior to attending, and will be performed at the Mesa Arts Center through Sept. 23.

For information on showtimes or to buy tickets visit mesaencoretheatre.com or call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500.

– Mesa resident Kian Hagerman is a Mesa Community College journalism intern for MyNewsMesa.com.

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