Sunday, October 20, 2013

Talented stars electrify with 'Chicago' at Valencia

Valencia College Theater has brought to life a rousing rendition of the provocative musical hit “Chicago,” at the newly renovated Performing Arts Center at Valencia College East Campus.
This beloved musical is widely acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, and works best when highlighted by tremendous talent from its large cast. This production features a diverse group of actors, singers and dancers that deliver the goods, and unique moments and extras that make this a show not to be missed.
When asked if this show lives up to his high expectations, director John DiDonna said “Yes it does. I think the students did a great job, I’m very pleased with everything that they pulled off.” DiDonna decided to make “Chicago” his first musical at Valencia College and this is the first musical at Valencia in over 30 years not directed by former theater department head Julia Gagne.
“Chicago” is based on true tales from the 1920s of murderous woman and the media frenzy that surrounded their crimes of passion. Not just enough to try and get out of prison without being sentenced to death, the two lead actresses work to capitalize on their newly found fame to propel them into stardom upon their release.
Rachele Taylor Rees who plays Velma Kelly kicked off this show with a bang as she appears through a trap door from center stage to perform her opening musical number “All That Jazz.”
“To get up at the start of the show and feel that energy from the crowd, it feels like all that hard work has paid off,” said Rees. Her commanding performance as former vocalist turned miffed murderess was a strong highlight of the evening, with savvy singing, dancing and acting throughout the show.
Another troubled femme fatale named Roxie Hart, played by Nicole Visco, works to one-up Kelly and reach her goal of starring on vaudeville. Though we see from the beginning that Hart is a manipulator and cold-blooded killer, Visco creates a delightful twist with her performance that draws the audience in with every charming quirk and pitch perfect note she sings.
These ladies compete for the help from a charming and ruthless trial lawyer named Billy Flynn played by Johnmichael McDonald. Under the expert guidance of DiDonna, who in the past instructed real lawyers how to act in the courtroom, McDonald nails his performance, especially his final imposing role during Hart’s day in court.
Other cast members are skilled in their supportive roles, most notably the lovely ladies Danielle Irigoyen, Katy Votapka, Taylor Duford, Kate Vermillion and Lauren Ford who play the “Cell Block Tango” girls. The strikingly beautiful and charming Ford also doubles as the master of ceremonies for this production, with a perfect on-stage charisma that sets the stage for what’s to come throughout the show.
The unsung members of “Chicago” featured behind all the action are the seven talented musicians making up the orchestra led by music director Tim Hanes.
“The challenge with ‘Chicago’ is a lot of people know the music so there are certain accuracies that have to be there,” said Hanes. “I’ve done ‘Chicago’ with a high school, with community theater, and semi-professional, and this cast is right up there, they’re really good.”
There are four performances of “Chicago” left at Valencia College with evening shows held at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 25 and 26, and a final early matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 27. A special one time only event will also be held after the performance on Oct. 25, with the cast and crew engaging in a talk-back with the audience about the production.
Ticket costs are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, seniors, faculty and alumni. A special $2 discount is available for advanced online ticket purchases by using the code “VALENCIAWEB” at http:///
By James Tutten
(All photos by James Tutten)
Nicole Visco (right) plays Roxie Hart along side Rachele Taylor Rees (left) as Velma Kelly.

The lovely Lauren Ford introduces the action as MC for "Chicago."

Johnmichael McDonald (center) performing along with Kate Vermillion (left) and Lauren Ford (right).


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