Sierra Stages’ production of “Chicago” is a winner

From the blog of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:

Our region’s arts and culture scene recently has been basking in the sunlight. In July, the California Arts Council named 14 statewide Cultural Districts, and Grass Valley-Nevada City and Truckee were included in the elite group. The same week the iconic California WorldFest drew big crowds to the Nevada County Fairgrounds for headliners such as Michael Franti, thanks to being re-energized by the imaginative, determined staff of The Center for the Arts.

And the beat goes on as Sierra Stages presents the Nevada County premiere of  the Broadway hit “Chicago” at the historic Nevada Theatre in Nevada City through August 5. We attended last night, and marveled at the local production: the acting, singing, dancing, music and razzle-dazzle of Chicago in the late ’20s. It is clearly one of Sierra Stages’ best productions in its nine-year history. Judging by their reactions after the show, including a long standing ovation, other patrons agreed. For $28 a ticket, the show is great deal, and many performances have been selling out, including ours.

The show and the venue, at the newly renovated Nevada Theatre, epitomize what is earning our region statewide honors for its arts and culture. This is adding vibrancy to our historic downtowns; Nevada City was teaming with locals and visitors last night.

The original Broadway production of “Chicago” opened 47 years ago. “The driving force behind the show was director/choreographer Bob Fosse, fresh from winning an Oscar for Cabaret,” wrote Peter Mason, Sierra Stages’ managing director, in the program. Liza Minelli was a star of the show. In the ’90s a new production won six Tony Awards, including “best musical revival” it is still running 21 years later, Mason observed.

The play centers on two real-life murder cases in 1920s Chicago. Both were acquitted. It is performed as a “musical vaudeville,” with each of the musical numbers in the style of a different real-life vaudeville personality from the ’20s.

Robert Rossman’s directing, as well as the acting from a cast of 20, was superb: Kate Haight as Velma Kelly; Jacquelynn Kilenko as Roxie Hart; Micah Cone as Amos Hart; and Jonathan Hansard as Billy Flynn, among others.

All of the characters were well developed; we were entertained nonstop by mouthy Roxie and Velma (“Start the car I know a whoopie spot… where the gin is cold and the piano’s hot.”); felt sad for Amos (Mica was one of the best performers); and “sold” on Bill’s slick lawyering. (“I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago today, and he had come to me and he had five thousand dollars, let’s just say things would have turned out differently.”) It was a seasoned cast — some returning from other Sierra Stages productions.

Ken Getz did a wonderful job conducting the 14-member band, which produced energized versions of familiar songs such as “All That Jazz,” “Razzle Dazzle” and “When You’re Good to Mama.” There were woodwinds, a trumpet, trombone, banjo, base, tuba, keyboards — and a violin. Getz is Sierra Stages’ music director, Peter Mason is managing director, and Rossman is the newly named artistic director, a lineup that will “up their game” further. Rossman has directed nine, acted in ten, and provided guidance and advice for other Sierra Stages’ productions.

We have seen the show on Broadway, and I wondered if this big Broadway musical could be “right-sized” on a smaller stage. It worked. So did the sound and lightening design. I also enjoyed the occasional, casual interaction between the cast and the band — an actor passing a newspaper with the blaring headline “Roxie Rocks Chicago” to the piano player to peruse, for example.

Fosse said Chicago was his response to the Watergate scandal — unfolding in the early ’70s — but I could see some parallels to our current politics: the reporters scribbling “fake news” into their notebooks, for example. I lived in Chicago when I was in graduate school and return regularly. After leaving the show, I had fond memories of Chicago planted in my mind. I kept looking around for a steakhouse, such as the Chicago Chop House. It was nowhere to be seen, though we did enjoy a nightcap at the Golden Era Lounge down Broad Street.

(Photo: David Wong)

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

11 thoughts on “Sierra Stages’ production of “Chicago” is a winner”

  1. It seems that there was a conflict between KVMR and the Center for the Arts. KVMR has broadcast the WorldFest since its inception and over the years has also provided tons of free PR via interviewing performers and playing their music in the weeks before the event, not to mention on air plugs by individual DJ’s. This year, however, the Center tried to ban KVMR from broadcasting the event for the stated reason that it would hurt attendance because people would stay home and listen on the radio rather than attend. KVMR’s broadcasts have not seemed to negatively affect attendance in the past and if anything have helped get the word out. Message to the Center, there is more to such an event than just the music. A person who is happy to listen on the radio is probably an unlikely candidate to make the effort to attend in person anyway. People attend for the people watching and atmosphere as well as the music. This penny pinching short sighted attempt to boost sales was ill-informed at best. You don’t bite the hands that feed you for a few nickels and dimes.

    1. Huh? The Center is a nonprofit, not Exxon Mobil. Michael Franti and the lineup isn’t free. Perhaps The Center can broadcast the KVMR Celtic Festival and call it “even.”! lol. I also think the two nonprofits get along much better than stated here. I hope Joe is a member of The Center. If not, here’s $50 on me to join. Let me know. Cheers.

    2. Then you must know the two nonprofits could do without such a polarizing narrative. The Center goes out on a limb when it hires talent like Franti, and it needs to put “butts in seats” or it can’t invite Franti anymore.

      1. You are missing the point Jeff. This is not my narrative. I did not do the polarizing, I am just reporting what people are saying took place. My point is that they are mutually inclusive and beneficial. KVMR helps ticket sales for all the events at the Center not hinders them, and for the Center to preempt that traditional support over worrying that ticket sales for this event might not reach expectations (why else would this happen?) seems a little short sighted to me.

      2. Sounds like you’re carrying water for some dissidents, not the majority. This is typical of the “whisper” campaigns that go on in Petticoat Junction. Let’s hear from KVMR’s management first hand, and let’s show some more “grown up” attitudes about the P&L of putting on a big event like WorldFest, where people sit at home and listen for free. That’s not short sighted, that a real concern.

  2. I was able to watch it live online from the WF website.
    BTW, Tribal Secretary Shelly Covert and the Nisenan families of the Nevada City Rancheria, were honored to open the event this year for the first time.
    Since these foothills are their traditional homelands, it is only right and proper that they welcome our visitors and WF celebrants with Nisenan songs, stories and good luck blessings.
    I want to congratulate the Nisenan for doing a great job and praise them for how hard they have worked and how far they have come in the last few years to bring forth their beautiful culture and share their love and passion for their homelands with the world.

  3. My wife and I attended the Sierra Stages performance of Chicago at the Nevada Theater on Friday the 14th. Oh my goodness, what a show. We LOVED it! Can’t imagine the amount work that when into the production. All of it was GREAT… the acting, singing, dancing, music/band, costumes/makeup, lighting, sound… All of it.

    Congratulations to Sierra Stages on an OUTSTANDING production.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to see the show and write such a wonderfully glowing review on your blog, Jeff! And thanks to Ben and his wife for seeing the show and then posting a relevant comment here.

    1. Micah,
      Thanks for the note. You did a great job with your character. My wife is going again on Thursday; I’ve got duty driving our son to his volleyball club in Sacramento. This state Cultural District designation from the California Arts Council for our community will provide a needed economic boost — both for cultural tourism and “locals pride.” It sure beats being labeled as the “State of Jefferson.” lol.

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