ALBANY — When you go — and you should — to Park Playhouse’s sparkling production of “Chicago,” you may find yourself recalling their searing staging of Kander & Ebb’s other big hit, “Cabaret,” a few years ago.
Of course, there is much more at stake in that gripping story of 1930s Berlin than in the tawdry tale of limelight-seeking murderesses in 1920s Chicago. OK, maybe there’s a bit of social commentary here: crooks of every stripe abound, the public can’t make and break celebrities fast enough, and life appears to be one long selfie. But you don’t really care for anyone much.
You just can’t wait to see the next fabulous number.
WHERE: Park Playhouse, Washington Park Lakehouse, Albany
WHEN: Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m., through July 30
HOW MUCH: Free; reserved seats $24-$16
MORE INFO: 434.0776, or parkplayhouse.com
However, there’s a funny thing about outdoor musicals, and maybe this one in particular: the show became more vivid and involving as the sun set at Tuesday’s opening. It was then that the cast’s singing and dancing — complemented by stunning costumes from The Costumer and a striking lighting design by David Sexton — was able to fully showcase the theatrical nature of the story. Thus, while there were nothing but accomplished performances in the previous numbers, like “All That Jazz” and “The Cell Block Tango,” it was in “Roxie” that I felt everything gel — in the dark.
William Davis’s three-tiered set of stairs, catwalks, and steel bars brilliantly evokes the city’s grittiness and allows director Michael LoPorto — after 10 years he owns this venue! —and choreographer Ashley — Simone Kirchner (channeling Bob Fosse) to move the talented ensemble around here, there, and everywhere. These young performers, particularly the male sextet in “Roxie” and the duo in “Me & My Baby,” convey the joy of performing all night long.
Like a refugee from “Orange Is the New Black” and a kissing cousin to the Emcee in “Cabaret,” prison matron Mama Thornton (Molly Rose McGrath) is also our Virgil in this murky world of manipulators. McGrath knocks out “When You’re Good to Mama” with a twinkle in her eye.
As reporter Mary Sunshine, K. W. Marshall warbles brilliantly in Act I and pulls off an in-your-face reveal in Act II.
Billy Flynn is a lawyer for anyone who will hire him, and Rick Roemer suavely delivers Flynn’s cynical philosophy of life in “All I Care About Is Love” and “Razzle Dazzle.”
Billy Goldstein, with delivery and a look worthy of a Samuel Becket clown, wrings every ounce of pathos from “Mr. Cellophane”; and Jonathan O’Leary as Fred Casely, the shooting victim of lover Roxie Hart (Katy Corbus), is a spectral reminder that murder is really not entertainment.
Corbus and Madeleine Corliss as husband-killer Velma Kelly shoulder the show with vocal and terpsichorean aplomb, nailing individual numbers and duetting wondrously on “I Am My Own Best Friend,” “Nowadays,” and “The Hot Honey Rag.”
Finally, kudos to musical director Brian Axford’s for training the performers and conducting a first-rate orchestra so splendidly. John Kander’s memorable music is well served.