“All That Jazz.” “Cell Block Tango.” “When You’re Good to Mama.” “Mr. Cellophane.” “Razzle Dazzle.” If you’re a fan of Broadway musicals — or movie musicals — you know that those songs all came from the Broadway hit Chicago. Chicago first hit Broadway in 1975 under the guidance of the incomparable Bob Fosse. The show ran for 936 performances and was revived in 1996 and is still playing today. That makes it the longest running Broadway revival in Broadway history, and the second longest running Broadway musical behind Phantom of the Opera.
The Broadway show has been sustained by the familiarity of the music and the dancing, and has had a revolving door of big name stars taking on the roles of Roxy Hart, Velma Kelly and Billy Flynn. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles is currently treading the boards on Broadway, while a new tour is crossing the country with John O’Hurley taking on the role of Billy Flynn in select cities (luckily, Baltimore was one of them). But if you’ve already seen the Oscar-winning movie, is it worth the time to see the show live on stage? In a word … yes!
If you’re not familiar with the story, Chicago takes place in the 1920s during the Jazz Age at a time when the public was fascinated by crimes committed by women. We first meet Velma Kelly (Terra MacLeod), who opens the show with “All That Jazz.” She’s become a manufactured celebrity with hopes of hitting the vaudeville circuit after lawyer Billy Flynn manipulates a jury into finding her not guilty. But another wannabe star enters the prison, Roxy Hart (Bianca Marroquin), and takes the spotlight off of Velma thanks to Billy. But how long will Roxy’s star shine before the next big crime makes headlines?
The stage version of Chicago is a completely different animal from the movie. tweet
If you’ve seen the movie version of Chicago, the stage version is a completely different animal. The movie had sets, costumes, and set most of the musical numbers as fantasy sequences in the mind of Roxy. The stage show is a bit more abstract. The only set is a large, three-tiered bandstand with the orchestra on stage (the conductor even has interaction with the cast and dialog of his own). Everyone else is dressed in black (or a tux in the case of Billy) and never change costumes even when they’re playing various characters. I know some people are turned off by shows that don’t have flashy sets and costumes, but Chicago is about the music and the dance.
And on that front, the cast (and the orchestra) delivers in spades. Both MacLeod and Marroquin have powerful voices, but while MacLeod’s Velma is the more seasoned and mature of the two, Marroquin gets to have a lot of fun with the younger Roxy, particularly with her mugging and making funny noises when she’s getting bored with all of the legal drama around her. One of the show’s stand-out numbers is “We Both Reached For the Gun” as Billy plays Roxy’s puppet master, literally, in front of the press. Both women also handle the Fosse-inspired choreography with panache.
John O’Hurley is perfectly cast as Billy Flynn, putting his persona to good use. tweet
O’Hurley is perfectly cast as Billy Flynn, using that persona he’s honed so well over the years, the self-important, over-blown ego on full display. He doesn’t have to do much dancing, but he’s got a very nice, powerful voice to make up for that. Another member of the touring cast has a notable claim to fame: Roz Ryan has played Matron “Mama” Morton on stage, Broadway and touring, longer than any other actor. She clearly relishes the role and while she doesn’t dance, she has the voice and stage presence to make you forget all about that. While all the numbers are outstanding, there is one major showstopper in Act 2 when Jacob Keith Watson, as Roxy’s husband Amos, takes the spotlight to sing “Mr. Cellophane.” The song is about how no one ever takes notice of Amos, even when they’re standing right next to him, but Watson brings such emotion to the number with his amazing singing voice (which really isn’t heard until this point) that you can’t help but take notice.
A trip to Chicago well worth your time. tweet
Overall, even if the show feels a bit uneven with very little dialog to drive the plot in Act 1 (which feels almost like a cabaret presentation of the music of Chicago), the cast’s singing and dancing, the more than outstanding support from the dance company (who are all impossibly sexy in their curve-hugging costumes), and the beautiful, familiar music provided by the orchestra makes a trip to Chicago well worth your time. Chicago is currently in Baltimore at the Hippodrome Theatre through March 8, with stops in Ontario, Virgina, New York, Texas, Arizona, Kansas and California to come. You can find out more information about the tour by clicking the banner below.