Chicago Theatre Review
The Razzle Dazzle of Criminals as Celebrities
Chicago – Drury Lane Oakbrook
For a show that’s been around for over four decades, Kander & Ebb’s Vaudevillian satire of the Windy City’s judicial system and, more specifically, criminals as celebrities, shows no signs of running out of steam. Indeed, the 1996 Broadway version, which sprang out of a popular, well-reviewed New York City Centers Encores! concert version, set a record in 1997 for earning the most Tony Awards for a Broadway revival. It’s still playing in New York, after over 7,000 performances. Productions of the show have broken attendance records all over the world and each National Tour proves more popular than the one before it.
The original Bob Fosse-directed 1975 production, which starred Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach, wasn’t as well received because it was show ahead of its time. As they say, timing is everything and the show was unfortunately overshadowed during the mid-70’s awards season by another little musical called “A Chorus Line.” However, following extensive television coverage of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, the criminal as a celebrity came into vogue and the musical’s dark humor and satire finally became appreciated.
The current regional production, one of the first, now playing at Drury Lane Oakbrook, is absolutely sensational. From director William Osetek’s sweeping, biting vision for this piece, to musical director Roberta Duchak’s excitingly energetic tempos, accompanied by Chris Sargent’s top-notch, brass-heavy pit orchestra, to the high-kicking ensemble of actor/singer/dancers, this is a production that’s truly Broadway quality. Jane Lanier’s razzle-dazzling, Fosse-inspired choreography is, at once, an homage to the original, while still being freshly inspired and energetically executed by this masterful company. Sully Ratke’s combination of kinky, sheer, sexy, sequin-embellished creations and authentic-looking period costumes are perfect for an acting company who seem to constantly be in motion. Lee Fiskness’ Vaudeville-inspired lighting bathes Kevin Depinet’s minimalistic, two-story scenic design, complete with its firefighter’s pole and an emcee-like narrator’s area, perched high above the stage, allows for additional stage pieces to nimbly move into place with ease. With its sleek, polished look, this production is the epitome of what Drury Lane Oakbrook does best.
Alena Watters, who has the lithe, supple body of Ute Lemper and the sultry vocals of Bebe Neuwirth, owns this production as Velma Kelly. Sexuality oozes from her in every song, beginning with one of Broadway’s greatest opening numbers, “All That Jazz.” Ms. Watters, along with the other wonderfully talented merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail, sing the heck out of the “Cell Block Tango.” Kelly Felthous makes a beautiful and unexpectedly dry and funny Roxie Hart. Her rendition of “Me and My Baby” and “Roxy” are two of the show’s musical highlights. Both ladies have golden pipes and do Fosse proud as dancers, particularly performing together in “Nowadays” and the show’s finale, “Hot Honey Rag.”
Guy Lockard makes a suavely captivating Billy Flynn, crooning “All I Care About is Love” and “Razzle Dazzle,” while making “We Both Reached for the Gun” a truly show-stopping number. Magnificent E. Faye Butler easily sports her Sophie Tucker-inspired role of Matron “Mama” Morton like a sequined glove. With her signature big voice, and even bigger personality, Ms. Butler soars with numbers like “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class” (a duet with Ms. Watters), songs that audiences will be humming long after the final curtain. “Mister Cellophane,” Justin Brill, makes a sweetly touching Amos Hart and J. London’s impressive soprano offers a major surprise as sob sister news columnist, Mary Sunshine.
For the first major, regional production in its namesake city, audiences should drop everything and rush to Oakbrook Terrace to catch this incredibly effervescent production. For theatergoers unfamiliar with this scathing musical lampoon of our judicial system and criminals as celebrities, or for those who only know this musical from its Oscar-winning 2002 film version, this majestic production is calling your name. But, for patrons who are already big fans of the Kander & Ebb classic, but may have forgotten the magical brilliance of this piece, treat yourself now. The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be “Chicago.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 20-June 18 by Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 630-530-0111, by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.