I’d promised myself I wouldn’t use words like “inspirational” or “life-affirming” to describe the production of Chicago by Phamaly, a company made up entirely of performers with disabilities. These performers are genuine artists who create professional — often better-than-professional — work, and no shift in standards is required for their shows. As I expected, under the direction of Regan Linton, who’s wheelchair-bound herself, the group came up with a stunning and brilliantly vital production — well staged, well choreographed, well acted and sung, and supported by Donna Debreceni’s wondrously passionate keyboard playing and musical direction.
But on the way to the theater, my friend had been telling me about the massacre of nine people in Dayton, Ohio, when I was still digesting the murder of twenty and the wounding of perhaps two dozen others in El Paso. I was still shaken when we walked into the Studio Loft, a large room atop the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. It was cunningly set up with seats on risers, some audience members at small round tables, others seated around an oval thrust that protruded into the audience. There was a buzz in the room that had nothing to do with the upcoming performance. But then Debreceni and her musicians began playing the overture, and pretty soon Erin Schneider, who plays Velma, was singing “All That Jazz.” A warm, funny, audience-embracing evening began unfolding, and I could feel things starting to shift in my mind, though it wasn’t until later that my scattered thoughts could organize themselves into something like coherence.