The website for Chicago the Musical boasts: CHICAGO has everything that makes Broadway great: a universal tale of fame, fortune and all that jazz; one show-stopping-song after another; and the most astonishing dancing you've ever seen. Those are bold and grand claims, and they are all true!Chicago The Musical is based on the play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was assigned to cover the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins columns of the scandalous trials were so popular that she decided to write a play based on them. It was the legendary Broadway actress Gwen Verdon who suggested Chicago the Musical. She convinced her husband the greatest choreographer who ever lived Bob Fosse they should buy the rights and move forward with a musical production.
Unfortunately, it was not that easy, by this time (the early sixties) Watkins had become a born again Christian who felt the play glamorized a scandalous way of living that she did not want to promote. Fosse tried to secure the rights multiple times throughout the sixties from the elderly Watkins but she would not sell. It was only after her death in 1969 that Fosse and Verdon were able to buy the rights from her estate.
John O'Hurley as Billy Flynn.
The result is on of the greatest Broadway Musicals ever produced, and this production, currently at The Winspear Opera house in Dallas features an amazing leading cast with strong Broadway chops that have only tightened and refined their perfermances since most of them were here last year performing the show in Fort Worth's Bass Hall.
The first thing that will strike you about this production is the set, or lack of. There is simply a large band box which is worked around or sometimes even worked into the story. While initially the lack of set may be a surprise, a disappointment even. You will quickly come to the conclusion that I did, when you have a story as strong as this, classic music by Kander and Ebb and the iconic choreography of Bob Fosse you don't need a set. It would be an unnecessary distraction.
The story is of Roxie Hart a cabaret singer who shoots and kills her lover when he tells her he is leaving her. Her ego explodes and she shoots him dead as she shouts , “nobody leaves me!” Her poor schlep of a husband takes the blame for her, until he finds that the “burglar” his wife shot was really her lover, and he recants landing Roxie in the Cook County Jail. Roxie lands in a jail filled with a female murderers..
If Roxie can come up with $5,000 she can hire Billy Flynn, an attorney who is guaranteed to get you off if you can pay his tab. Flynn works the system and the press to assure a not guilty verdict. He gives the women he defends “grounds”. It doesn't matter if they did it or not, it's only the grounds that matter.
The press love the women charged with murder and as long as they can stay in the news they are guaranteed a career on the Vaudeville circuit once they are found not guilty. A rivalry develops between Roxie and fellow inmate Velma, who both vie for the attention of their lawyer Billy Flynn and the press, especially reporter Mary Sunshine, who sees the good in everyone.
Chicago starts with a bang, one of the most recognizable show tunes of all time, All That Jazz. I was immediately struck by the choreography, this is probably the show most identified with Bob Fosse, and this cast explodes onto the stage with a momentum that never wanes. You do not see choreography like this in many shows. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to perform this show night after night, but this cast appears to love what they are doing. The choreography is tight, intricate and amazing.
This cast is stellar. As you know if you read my interview with him, John O'Hurley is headlining, but here you have all the Broadway leads in one show. Tracy Shayne and Terra C MacLeod play Roxie and Velma, Both played these roles on the Great White Way and were in the tour when it landed at Bass Hall last year.
Tracy Shayne as Rovie Hart.
Ron Orbach (Cousin of Jerry) plays Roxie's schlep of a husband Amos. Many a show features a character that demurs through the most of the show to only stun the audience before the shows closure with a musical number that brings the audience to its' feet. Though none I have seen do it the way Ron does. His performance of Mr Cellophane was so powerful, the ovation from the opening night audience was the loudest and most deserved of the evening.
Kecia Lewis Evans plays jail matron Mama Morton, a role she played on Broadway. She was a bit scandalous with both cast and audience members. She looks to enjoy this role and that makes it even more fun to watch. Her duet of Class with Velma was a highlight of the show for me. Her vocal range added a dimension to the show missing last year when the role was played by TV's Roz Ryan. Her version of “When Your Good To Mama” was perfection.
John O'Hurley is Brilliance as Billy Flynn the the showman attorney that can get anybody found not guilty for $5,000-a lot of loot in the twenties. O'Hurley has played this role for years and his comic timing has become more precise and on target with time. “If Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago and had $5,000. to hire me, it would have been a much different outcome, I promise you!” Anytime O'Hurley is on the stage he owns it. There is nothing this man isn't good at doing.
D. Micciche plays Mary Sunshine, and he, yes he, does an amazing job in this female role. He has many operatic credits under that dress, and was great fun to watch.
A special mention of Daniel Gutierrez who is a member of the ensemble. He lead most dance numbers and you could see why. He was precise in his movement, the broad genuine smile never left his face, and he is delicious to look at. He is so good looking it is distracting. Be warned this stage is filled with gorgeous men.
It is so nice that instead of watching some old movie forced into a musical for money, getting to see real theater, dare I say art. Xanadu The Musical this is not, and I thank God for that! This is what theater is all about. Chicago is one of the longest running shows in Broadway history, go and you will understand why.
Chicago starring John O'Hurley plays Dallas' Winspear Opera House Through Sunday, August 26th. Tickets are $30.00-$150.00 and are available at www.attpac.org
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