At the Cadillac Palace Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – “Chicago” is back in town, if only for a week. The production is not perfect, but its pleasures obviously satisfied the large .opening night audience at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. The musical was born on Broadway near the end of the last century and shows no sign of ever leaving us. The New York City production is currently selling tickets into 2020.
“Chicago” actually began its hit status in 1975 but it exploded into a mega hit after it was revived in a stripped-down version as part of New York City concert series late in 1996. The response was so enthusiastic that it was transferred to a Broadway theater. The revised version still thrives in regional theaters and in touring versions like what is on offer now in the Loop.
“Chicago” is set in Chicago in 1926 and captures the cynicism and political corruption of that wild and woolly decade, with its yellow journalism, justice for sale in the courts, crooked lawyers, and obsession with publicity. Specifically the musical follows the lives of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, a pair of young ladies who happen to be in the Cook County jail charged with murder.
The musical began as a straight play in 1926 but was reborn in 1975 under the supervision of the artistic brain trust of director-choreographer Bob Fosse and the team of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics). The 1996 version eliminated virtually all the scenery, placing the accompanying jazz orchestra prominently on stage. The ensemble sits on ladders and simple chairs along the side of the stage when they aren’t performing. The costumes are basically all black and sexy, with designer William Ivey Long clearly inspired by styles promoted by Victoria’s Secret.
The narrative makes no attempt at realism. The scenes are conceived primarily as vaudeville turns, with people on stage often speaking directly to the audience. Through it all, the show tries to sell a cynical image life in the Windy City during the Roaring 20’s, when integrity was the first man down and self interest ruled. It could have been a cautionary expose of the sleazy opportunism of the day, but “Chicago” wears its cynicism so lightly that audiences will be having too much fun to react with any sense of outrage.
The Kander-Ebb score is satisfactory but the show really rides on the brilliance of Bob Fosse’s sinuous and athletic choreography. Fosse’s dances demand star turns by the two actresses playing Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, notably the “Roxie” number that puts the character on stage supported by chorus members for what seems like an uninterrupted half an hour of continuous song and movement.
I’ve seen productions of “Chicago” that had more energy and sizzle, though Dylis Croman is a fine Roxie, nicely playing the dumb blonde with her eye on the main chance. As Velma Kelly, Lana Gordon isn’t as strong, but then her role isn’t as strong. Jennifer Fouche is OK as the Cook County jail matron on the take, but there could be more expansive relish in her dishonesty. On the other hand, Paul Vogt strikes the perfect woeful note as Roxie’s Casper Milquetoast husband Amos, who was the audience’s favorite character on opening night. Alexa Jane Lowis played the pathetic Hunyak, a young foreign prisoner based on a real figure, who became the first woman hung for murder in Cook County. Her brief death scene was the only emotionally serious moment in the show. D. Ratell is a persuasive Mary Sunshine, a simpering Chicago gossip columnist who provides the biggest surprise of the evening, catching a considerable portion of the audience off guard.
This revival properly stays close to the original in look and spirit. No theater in its right mind will ever stage a revisionist version of the 1996 “Chicago.” The spirited chorus nicely goes through the slick Fosse paces as filtered through the choreography of earlier choreographer Ann Reinking (the original Roxie Hart) and restaged by David Bushman. David Hyslop likewise follows the original directing by Walter Bobbie.
The other major character is Billy Flynn, a shady and successful lawyer who defends Roxie and Velma with oily charm and cheap theatrics. Over the years, the role has commonly been assigned to a guest outside the conventional musical comedy stage orbit, like Patrick Swayze, Usher, George Hamilton, and Huey Lewis. For this touring version, the role goes to Eddie George, known primarily as a star college and professional football player. George gets through the role honorably enough, but his stage presence lacks the gleeful conniving edge that represents the craven moral atmosphere of the story.
Minor flaws notwithstanding, this is a “Chicago” revival that should satisfy both newcomers to the show and its legion of fans. The originality of the staging concept remains a continuous delight and the Fosse dances, as always, are a joy.
The show gets a rating of.
“Chicago” runs through May 12 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $100. For more information, visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. May 2019
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