Sometimes, as a theater reviewer, you get jaded. You see the same show enough times and in enough settings, you begin to make assumptions about who will do what well and who won't. However, the best part of the job (aside from all those free tickets and opening parties) is when you are proven wrong, time and time again, finding surprises where you never expected them. New Candlelight Theatre, the Ardentown, Del., dinner theater, has provided a couple of those surprises this season, most recently in its current production of

Chicago

.

You can hardly blame me for my low expectations. Dinner-theater Fosse has the potential to go horribly wrong from the moment the lighting designer (in this case, Chris Alberts) puts on Roxie's red light. Sure, the Kander and Ebb music is bombproof with even half-decent singers, as Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere have proved. But all that stylized kittenish iconography, the bowler hats and the jazz pants - well, it wouldn't take much for the whole Roaring-'20s-via-Swinging-'70s aesthetic to end up in a great depression. Clearly, director Robert Kelly and choreographer Jody Anderson Miller realize these potential pitfalls, and have worked cast members until all of them, every last one, can flex their fingers in unison.

It helps that the cast has the lithe Nora Fitzgerald as its Velma Kelly, wicked foil to Kelley Faulkner's murderous coquette Roxie. Though Faulkner is serviceable in the role, Fitzgerald carries the show, blending a sultry stage presence with the cold come-on of a prison pinup, while Faulkner settles for a sweet smile. Robert Miller's Billy Flynn is professional, but without the smolder that can make the character so memorable. Still, he gets the job done with a clear voice and a crocodile smile.

The show's weakest moments are most pronounced when the shrill B. Sheehan takes to the stage as soft-hearted reporter Mary Sunshine. But happily, hers/his (there's a whole drag element here that, well, kind of drags) is a minor role.

The actors don't possess the uniformly gamine physiques you'd expect to see in a Bob Fosse show, and for that reason, costumer Timothy Lamont Cannon needed to step up his game in order to do them justice. In some cases, he succeeds, but in a few, he doesn't, picking outfits that call attention to all the wrong parts - the more reason to applaud this cast for its obvious hard work and lack of self-consciousness.

This may not be the most spectacular version of Chicago you'll ever see - there's recorded backing music and no molls lolling from the scaffolding - but it's a strong effort.

Chicago

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, directed by Robert Kelly, choreography by Jody Anderson Miller, musical direction by Steven Weatherman, scenery by Brian Wild, costumes by Timothy Lamont Cannon, lighting by Chris Alberts.

Cast: Kelley Faulkner (Roxie), Nora Fitzgerald (Velma), Robert Miller (Billy Flynn), Melissa Joy Hart (Mama Morton), Patrick O'Hara (Amos), B. Sheehan (Mary Sunshine), Nick Armstrong, Gina Cipollini, Jeff Kobasa, Angela Bates Majewski, Amanda McCrossin, Tim Moudy, Andre Myers, Alfie Parker, Christopher Perez, Kristen Romero, Calley Steel, Anthony Tumolo, Erin-Michelle Waldie.

Playing at: New Candlelight Theatre, 2208 Millers Rd., Ardentown, Del. Through July 15. Tickets: $30 to $47, includes dinner. Information:

302-475-2313 or

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