by Mo Brady
“All That Jazz.” “Cell Block Tango.” Broadway’s Chicago arguably features some of the most iconic ensemble numbers in theatrical history. Originally opening in 1976, the show is written not not for the ensemble to simply support the leading roles. Chicago showcases ensemble actors standing shoulder to shoulder with the principal performers throughout the evening’s proceedings. It is arguably one of the pivotal shows to launch the now ubiquitous term “triple threat.”
Having recently taken in the Broadway revival at the Ambassador Theatre, I can happily report the show still offers a showcase for Broadway’s best ensemble actors. Between the bare-bones production and the bare-bones costumes, the ensemble does not have a place to hide. Rather, we get to see all fourteen chorus members stand front and center.
From the moment Jessica Ernest enters the stage to introduce the story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploration, adultery and treachery, we are invited to engage with the ensemble. As she introduces the overture, the staging draws our eyes to each of the fourteen storytellers, building a familiarity for the production to capitalize on throughout the show.
Throughout the performance, each of the fourteen ensemble actors have shining moments. From the effervescence of Pilar Millhollen to the old-school swagger of Jason Patrick Sands, each actor finds a way to charm the crowd.
Chicago marks Barrett Martin’s ninth Broadway Musical - and for good reason. He makes Broadway look easy. He effortlessly leads the “Tap Dance Speciality” with a cool suavity. Bracing the show’s famous proscenium ladder during Hunyak’s rope trick, his movement embodies both strength and suppleness. Barrett dances like a “dude” in the very best sense of the word.
Magnetism is not a strong enough word to describe the electricity that comes from Angel Reda. As Mona, one of the six merry murderesses, she gives a performance that starts on fire and never rests. The quality of her movement finds the perfect balance between sharp hits and languid fluidity. She’s also a standout in “Cell Block Tango,” where the versatility with which she twists the word “Lipschitz” around her tongue should be taught in theatre schools across the country.
With such iconic material to perform, the ensemble of Chicago has always had the opportunity to shine. This current crop of ensemble actors treading the boards of the Ambassador Theatre take that opportunity and embrace it, finding ways time and again to showcase their talents in service of the show.