With a cast of despicable characters pursuing fame and fortune through “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery,” the musical Chicago is biting satire that explores the dark side of the American Dream. It might be depressing if it wasn’t so damned entertaining. An acclaimed Broadway revival and an Oscar-winning movie version are both in recent memory, so audiences will likely have high expectations for this show. The current production by Marquee, a company that presents musicals biannually to benefit Children’s Musical Theater San Jose, should more than meet these expectations with its vaudevillian style and choreography by Kevin R. Hauge, not to mention lots of attractive people in revealing costumes.

The Windy City’s storied Prohibition days come to life in the opening number “All That Jazz,” which is probably the best-known tune from Chicago, though only the first in a series of high energy show-stoppers. Antiheroines Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Mary Kalita and Shannon Self, in performances infused with icy sexuality) land in jail after committing bloody crimes of passion. The prison is run by Matron “Mama” Morton (Robin Boshears), who is more show-biz agent than corrections officer, as she explains in the fantastic song “When You’re Good to Mama.”

High-profile lawyer Billy Flynn (Michael Mulcahy, who piles on smarmy charisma during “All I Care About” and “Razzle Dazzle,” and who is familiar to followers of the local political scene as a one-time candidate for San Jose mayor) arrives to save the day by transforming the murderous, foul-mouthed Roxie into a wholesome darling in the eyes of the press—particularly the overly effervescent reporter Mary Sunshine (D. Jacques), who may or may not be a woman.

It is crucial to the play’s satire that the most sympathetic characters consistently get the short end of the stick. These are Hunyak (Whitney Janssen), an apparently innocent prison mate of Roxie and Velma’s, and Amos, Roxie’s cuckolded husband. As Amos, Michael Johnson is good at being pathetic—“You can look right through” him and never know he’s there—which makes it all the more satisfying when he finally gets the spotlight with the musical number “Mister Cellophane.”

The hot, jazzy orchestration and fine ensemble cast tie everything together, making this great entertainment for the young and old, though not for the impressionable.

Children’s Musical Theater San Jose
Thursday, 7:30pm, Friday, 8pm, Saturday, 2 and 8pm
Montgomery Theater,
271 S. Market St., San Jose
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