Chicago Theatre Review
Broadway in Chicago: All That Jazz and Then Some
For a show that’s been around for almost four decades, Kander & Ebb’s Vaudevillian satire of the justice system and, more specifically, criminals as celebrities shows no signs of running out of steam. Indeed, the 1996 Broadway version (upon which this National Tour is based), which sprang from a popular, well-reviewed NYC City Centers Encores! concert version, set a record in 1997 for earning the most Tony Awards for a Broadway revival. It’s still currently 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 ahead of its time. As they say, timing is everything and the show was unfortunately overshadowed at awards time in the mid-70’s by another little musical called “A Chorus Line.” However, following extensive television coverage of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, the celebrity criminal came into vogue and the musical’s dark humor and satire became appreciated.
The current touring production now playing in Chicago for (sadly) a mere week is absolutely sensational. From musical director Jesse Kissel’s energetic tempos played by a top-notch, brass-heavy onstage orchestra, to the highly accomplished ensemble of actor/singer/dancers this is a production that truly deserves the label, Broadway in Chicago. Walter Bobbie’s original staging and Ann Reinking’s Fosse-inspired choreography has been lovingly recreated for this masterful road company. William Ivey Long’s kinky creations of sheer, sexy, sequin-embellished black costumes are perfect for these actors sporting zero per cent body fat. Ken Billington’s Vaudeville-inspired lighting bathes John Lee Beatty’s minimalistic scenic design which plunks the band, complete with its emcee-like conductor, center stage in a jury box. With its sleek look, this production is the epitome of Less-is-More.
Terra C. MacLeod, who has the lithe, supple body of Ute Lemper and the sultry growl of Eartha Kitt, owns this production as Velma Kelly. Sexuality oozes from her every song, beginning with one of Broadway’s best opening numbers, “All That Jazz.” Ms. MacLeod, along with the other merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail, sing the heck out of the “Cell Block Tango.” Bianca Marroquin 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 together in “Nowadays” and the “Hot Honey Rag.”
Returning to a role he’s previously played is TV personality John O’Hurley, J. Peterman from the popular TV series, “Seinfeld.” With that head of gorgeous, white hair and that unmistakable voice, O’Hurley makes a suavely captivating Billy Flynn crooning “Razzle Dazzle” and making “We Both Reached for the Gun” a true show-stopping number. Carol Woods effortlessly wears her Sophie Tucker-inspired role of Matron “Mama” Morton like a sequined glove. With a big voice and an even bigger personality, Ms. Woods soars with “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class” (a duet with Ms. MacLeod), songs that audiences remember long after the final curtain. Mister Cellophane, Ron Orbach, makes a touching Amos and C. Newcomer’s impressive soprano offers some surprises as sob sister news columnist, Mary Sunshine.
In a visit to its namesake city that’s all too short, audiences will be smart to drop everything, brave the cold and rush into the Loop to catch this new touring production. For those unfamiliar with this incisive, musical lampoon of the judicial system, or for those who know “Chicago” only from its Oscar-winning 2002 film version, this production is calling your name. And for patrons who are already big fans of the Kander & Ebb musical, but 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 by Broadway in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the theatre box office, by calling the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000, at Ticketmaster locations and by visiting www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreiinchicago.com.