“Chicago” plays at Welk Resort Theatre through June 2

ESCONDIDO – When the musical “Chicago” debuted in 1975, audiences and critics were initially put off by its cynicism and unsympathetic characters. Over time, its rough edges have been softened by stage and film directors. But at Welk Resort Theatre, where a new production of Kander and Ebb’s classic opened March 23, director/choreographer Ray Limon has embraced the musical’s darkest roots.

“You may not like the selfish, fame-craving characters in this satirical tale of crime and celebrity in Prohibition-era Chicago, but you’ll love this high-energy production,” said theatre manager, Joshua Carr.

Limon’s production honors Bob Fosse’s original choreography and vaudeville staging concept in the well-danced show. And because each character is a vaudevillian, Limon allows them to step outside the story and have their moment to milk the audience for applause, whether it’s RC Sands’ quivering lips and chin as crime reporter Mary Sunshine or an epically long final note sung by Randall Dodge as greedy defense attorney Billy Flynn.

Co-starring as the “merry murderesses” Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart — who both plan to cash in on their notoriety as stage stars after Flynn springs them from jail — are Welk vet Natalie Nucci and newcomer Adrienne Storrs.

“It’s a nice pairing,” said Carr. “Nucci is a seasoned pro with fire in her belly, sardonic humor and desperation in her eyes. Storrs is greener, hungrier, vivacious and cruel. Their characters aren’t nice ladies, but, boy, can these ladies dance.”

Carr said great support work is done by Dodge (who wears a pencil-thin mustache and self-adoring sneer with aplomb); the scene-stealing Sands; the touchingly tender Shaun Thomas as Roxie’s cuckolded husband, Amos; and the soulful Valerie Geason as the prison matron.

“There’s also a solid dance company and onstage band led by music director/keyboardist Justin Gray,” said Carr.

“Virtually every number is a standout, although it’s hard to top the ensembles “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “Cell Block Tango,” or the perfectly delivered duet “Class.”

Performances are offered at 1 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, through June 2. Tickets are $45 and up (buffet lunch or dinner option is $18 extra).

Welk Resort Theatre is located at 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido. For more information, visit www.welkresorts.com or call toll-free (888) 802-7469.

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