Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Fun Home and Bright Colors and Bold Patterns

Tiffany Sparks and Liz Fallon
Photo by Scott Samplin
When COVID shut down live theatre productions around the world in March of 2020, Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of Chicago had only played a few performances. ABT vowed they'd bring that production back—it has just opened their 2021 season. With an exceptional cast, sublime creative aspects, confident direction, and sensational choreography, it was well worth the wait.

Set in the 1920s, Chicago is a satirical musical comedy fantasy that tells the story of two women on trial for murder. It highlights the sensationalized scandals of an earlier time period in which criminals became overnight celebrities (something that, unfortunately, still happens today). Roxie Hart is a married woman who has murdered her lover. She convinces her husband Amos to take the blame for the killing, telling him the person she killed was an intruder. When Amos realizes the victim was someone they knew and admits to the police he was covering for his wife, Roxie ends up in Cook County Jail along with Velma Kelly, who is about to go on trial for killing both her husband and sister in a moment of jealous rage. As Roxie and Velma battle with each other to keep their cases, and more importantly their names, in the newspapers and the spotlight, they must rely on the prison matron "Mama" Morton and their lawyer Billy Flynn to help them fool the media, the public, and the jury into believing they are innocent.

The score by songwriting duo John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) comprises showstopper after showstopper, with many of the songs presented as vaudeville-style solos that comment on the inner thoughts of the characters while also satirizing the celebrity status of the ruthless killers. The book by Bob Fosse and Ebb is succinct and hilarious.

Kurtis Overby's direction is assured and clear. His choreography is fun and upbeat and features period steps as well as some of the signature Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking choreography from the original production and the current Broadway revival of the show, specifically in the numbers "All That Jazz" and "Hot Honey Rag." For fans of the long-running Broadway revival, you'll notice that this is the unabridged book for the show, and not the slightly edited down version the revival uses, and that Overby has included some original touches that work very well. Some of these fresh takes include having all of the victims present in flashback sequences during "Cell Block Tango" (Hunyak appears to actually be "not guilty," which was a stellar addition), literally turning Amos into a clown during "Mr. Cellophane," and some fun bits of magic in "Razzle Dazzle."

Michael Ursua's music direction is stellar, as is the-10 piece band. The scenic design by Nate Bertone is superb, with deep reds and a few art deco touches that tie nicely into the period and the decadent nature of the show. Jeff A. Davis' superb lighting is rich, vibrant, and constantly changing. The gorgeous costume designs by Cassandra Klaphake are period and character specific. The sound design by Jesse Worley ensures every word, lyric, and note the band plays is clear and crisp.

Every single cast member shines. Liz Fallon instills Roxie with a nice combination of confusion, charm and vulnerability. However, there is no question in Fallon's portrayal that Roxie knows exactly what she did and that she needs to do whatever she can to be found innocent. Fallon's performance is funny, sweet, and even heartbreaking when Roxie realizes she actually may be found guilty. As Velma, Tiffany Sparks is a firecracker of energy with an abundance of sass and street smarts. Roxie's arrival in jail threatens Velma's top criminal status, and Sparks' frenzied facial expressions and vocal prowess work well to create a woman who will seemingly do anything necessary to get back on top. Both Fallon and Sparks make you root for their characters to succeed even though you know they are both guilty of murder. Their exceptional dancing and singing abilities make all of their songs soar.

Kiel Klaphake is the perfect embodiment of suave sophistication with an underbelly of slime as Billy Flynn, the lawyer for both ladies who only cares about getting paid for his services, not the clients he's representing. His warm singing voice has a period crooner shine to it that works well for the vaudevillian nature of the score. As Amos, Andy Meyers is sweet and sincere; he shines as the downtrodden husband. His solo, "Mr. Cellophane," is beautiful and heartbreaking. Kiani Nelson is superb as the saucy Matron "Mama" Morton. Her sexy solo, "When You're Good to Mama," and her perfect comic timing get big laughs. As Mary Sunshine, the reporter who follows the cases, Lucas Brady is a comical crowd pleaser, hitting some impressive sustained high notes, and the entire ensemble cast is exceptional, with polished dance moves and excellent stage presence.

Chicago at Arizona Broadway Theatre is sexy, funny, and simply superb. Any fan of this musical is in for a treat seeing this beloved classic musical with an exceptional cast, sure-footed direction, excellent choreography, and superb creative elements.

Chicago runs through October 30, 2021, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, visit or call 623-776-8400.

Direction/Choreography: Kurtis Overby
Music Direction: Michael Ursua
Scenic Design: Nate Bertone
Lighting Design: Jeff A. Davis
Sound Design: Jesse Worley
Costume Design: Cassandra Klaphake
Wig Design: Amanda Gran
Production Stage Manager: Leigh Treat
Production Coordinator: Jamie Parnell
Associate Artistic Director: Kurtis Overby
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting & Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Velma Kelly: Tiffany Sparks
Roxie Hart: Liz Fallon
Fred Casely: Daniel Miller
Sergeant Fogarty/Jury: Danny Durr
Amos Hart: Andy Meyers
Liz: Anna Marie Abbate
Annie: Samantha Ross
June: Alicia Babin
Hunyak: Kelly Gleason
Mona: Katie Scarlet Swaney
Martin Harrison/Harry: Andrew Ruggieri
Matron "Mama" Morton: Kiani Nelson
Billy Flynn: Kiel Klaphake
Mary Sunshine: Lucas Brady
Go-To-Hell Kitty: Musa Hitomi
Aaron/The Judge: Stephen Hohendorf
Court Clerk/Bailiff: Dylan Vonder Linden
The Doctor: Albert Hsueh