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Meet Gypsy Playhouse’s ‘Chicago’ merry murderesses


Coming to Gypsy Playhouse’s black box theater for four quick-hitting shows is Chicago. While the musical stars Eileen Little as Roxie Hart, Paola Cifuentes as Velma Kelly and Parrish Danesh as lawyer Billy Flynn, the Cook County Jail’s merry murderesses make quite the impression both during and following their “Cell Block Tango” musical number.

Chicago tells the story of a 1920s wannabe cabaret star by the name of Roxie Hart, who’s sleeping around on her goodhearted but simpleminded husband, Amos. When one of her lovers decides he’s dumping her first, Roxie puts three bullets in his chest.

At first, Amos covers for Roxie but when he learns that she’s been cheating on him, Mr. Cellophane throws her under the proverbial bus with the homicide investigator who’s investigating the shooting. Soon after landing in the Murderess Row Cell Block, Roxie meets the jailhouse matron, Mama Morton, and six infamous murderesses. All but one brazenly cops to doing the deed. But each equivocates her guilt by claiming that her husband or boyfriend “had it coming.”

Ernie was married to a woman named Liz. What irritates Miss Lizzie isn’t nails on a chalkboard or even the sound of a fork scraping against a plate. It’s Ernie’s incessant gum popping that drives her insane. One night, Liz comes home from a long, aggravating day needing a hug and a kiss. Instead, Ernie pops off, even louder for effect. So Pop takes the shotgun hanging on the wall and fires two warning shots – into Ernie’s head. It’s Missy Carmean in the role of merry murderess number 1.

The second Cell Block murderess is Annie. Her dreams of domestic bliss are shattered when she discovers her boyfriend, Ezekiel Young, was married – to six other women! “One of  those Mormons, you know?” So she fixed him a cocktail when he came home that fateful night. “Some guys just can’t hold their arsenic.” That’s not Annie’s fault. Besides, he had it coming. Wouldn’t you have done the same? Linda Valyo is Gypsy Playhouse’s merry murderess number 2.

Allison Lund plays the part of June. “Squish” is in jail for killing her husband, Wilbur. “I was standing in the kitchen carvin’ up the chicken for dinner, minding my own business, and in [he] storms in a jealous rage,” she explains. “‘You been screwin’ the milkman,’ he says. He was crazy. And he kept screamin’, ‘you been screwin’ the milkman!” And then he ran into my knife. Ten times.” Clearly, Squish ain’t squeamish when it comes to the sight of blood – at least when it’s not hers. It’s just a good damn thing she sharpened her knife before she started making dinner that night. Allison’s previous credits include Magenta for Fort Myers Theatre in The Rocky Horror Show, both Stage Manager and Ensemble member in Rent, Clairee Belcher in Steel Magnolias and Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby.

Batting clean-up is Velma Kelly, who had an act with her sister. They’d do acrobatic tricks – splits, black flips, flip flops and the like. Twenty of them, to be precise. On tour, they stopped overnight in the town of Cicero. They were having some drinks and a few laughs with Velma’s husband, Charlie when they ran outta ice. Being the thoughtful gal that she is, Velma went out for more. But when she got back, she found Veronica practicing the spread eagle with Charlie. She has no idea what happened next. But she knows one thing for sure. She didn’t kill ’em. “No woman can love a man enough to kill him. They aren’t worth it because there are always plenty more …” I apologize. That quote comes not from Velma Kelly, but her alter ego Belva Gaertner. Either way, they had it coming. They only had themselves to blame. For Cifuentes, Velma is the yin to her Janet Weiss yang in Rocky Horror and Morticia in The Addams Family Musical, both for Fort Myers Theatre.

Not only does the dancer extraordinaire excel at Robin Dawn Ryan’s Fosse-flavored choreography, she and Billy Flynn actor Parrish Danesh have also choreographed a number in the show. Hopefully, it’s not the number 17.

Mona, played by Samantha Cueva, is the fifth Cook County Jail Murderess Row resident and perhaps the most unhinged of all the women. Mona killed her low-down, no-good over-sexed boyfriend, Alvin Lipschitz, a sensitive, artistic painter, after learning that he was four-timing her – with three other girls and Irving. She hated to see him happy if she’s not the one driving. “If I can’t have you, no one should. Rather be in jail than alone.” Oops, mixed up SZA with Kander and Ebb. It’s an honest mistake.

Only Hungarian immigrant Kaitlin Hunyak is actually innocent. But she is the first victim of the musical’s lethal cynicism, maintaining that “Uncle Sam is fair and just” right up to the time she does her state-imposed Hungarian rope trick and becomes the first capital offender to ever be executed in Chicago. Played by Miliani Roman, Hunyak’s name means “pure loser,” an ironic appellation that no doubt fills present-day Dreamers and Haitian and Salvadoran earthquake refugees with foreboding and trepidation.

He had it coming, he had it coming
He only had himself to blame
If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it
I betcha you would have done the same
Pop! Six! Squish! Uh Uh, Cicero, Lipschitz!

April 17, 2023.

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