Rising Stars: “Chicago” at CAP Merrick

True crime reached the height of its popularity in recent years. Audiences continue to tune into Netflix and other streaming services watching tales of serial murder and other atrocities unfold. However, some pundits are left wondering if this obsession is healthy or in good taste when these perpetrators reach semi-celebrity status. With that being said, “Chicago” the Musical couldn’t be more timely with the exploration of crime entangled with glamour. Inspired by true events, this treasured musical puts true crime on full display with witty takes on media circuses, courtroom drama, and the celebrity of murderers.

Featuring a college-aged cast, CAP Merrick’s “Chicago: School Edition” executes the tongue-in-cheek tone of the musical with all the necessary touches of glitz and pizazz in an intimate setting. This production, directed and choregraphed by Bella Ninivaggi, showcases some of the region’s most promising young performers – many pursuing B.F.As and B.As in sectors of the performing arts.

Faith Wankel sets the bar exceedingly high with her stunning performance of “All That Jazz” – backed by the terrific ensemble. She oozes charisma and perfectly executes the number with her sultry vocals and slick movement. With clear dedication to her craft, she embodies the spirit of Velma Kelly to perfection. With numbers like “Cell Block Tango” and “I Can’t Do This Alone,” it is clear why Catherine Zeta Jones – originally cast as Roxie in the 2000 film adaptation of the musical – insisted that she play Velma. She is a character you either want to be or be with and Ms. Wankel is the quintessential performer to pull that off.

Velma may open the musical, but the plot follow Roxie Hart – played by Nicole Rampanelli in this particular performance. Most of the roles in the show are shared by two to four performers with some cast members alternating between lead and featured roles and the ensemble. With strong vocal prowess, Ms. Rampanelli is a wonderful choice for the role of the dreamer who will do just about anything for fame. “Roxie” is a standout number in the show and gives the young actress the opportunity to make the role her own, which she does.

Andrew Koehler as Billy Flynn

Another highlight of the production is “They Both Reached For the Gun,” which features Roxie as a faux-dummy on the lap of the one and only Billy Flynn. Andrew Koehler portrayed Flynn in this performance and he is fantastic as the highly desired lawyer. He boasts both the vocal and acting chops to pull off this beloved Broadway character. Both “All I Care About Is Love” and “Razzle Dazzle” garnered booming applause from the audience as Mr. Koehler belted out the last notes.

The production also features strong performances by the supporting cast. Willow Dean’s Amos captures a portrait of a meek man whose ramblings go unheard. Her performance of “Mr. Cellophane” – a personal favorite song of mine – was captivating. Alaina Ciorra also impresses as Matron Mama Morton, belting out “When You’re Good to Mama” with a deep, devious tone. Finally, Wilbert Diaz – doubling as Stage Manager and Billy Flynn in certain performances, rounds out the secondary characters with an electric performance of eccentric reporter Mary Sunshine. He flourishes about the stage with ease and adds a significant amount of comedy to the show.

Of course, a production is only as strong as its ensemble and this ensemble works together like a well-oiled machine. Led by extremely talented dance captain Leigh Corrado, they bring Fosse’s famed movements to life and seductive flavor to every number.

While the school edition libretto is not the Broadway musical in full, the production hits all the right notes regardless. Fans of the stage production and film alike will delight in the young talent showcased and the famous moments of the show brought to life with all the “razzle dazzle” required.

Chicago runs at CAP Merrick through August 21. Visit capmerrick.com for additional information.

2 thoughts

  1. All due respect, it is odd that you did not credit the Director in this article. I would add that in immediately!

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