Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
While Chicago, The Musical may not be the hot ticket it was the last time it came to Cincinnati, when it was still reaping the benefits of the 2002 blockbuster film, the current tour demonstrates the show still knows how to deliver enough "Razzle Dazzle" to make it an audience favorite, thanks in large part to its first-rate cast.
Billed as a story of "murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery," the show tells the tale of two 1920s women, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, awaiting trial in the Cook County jail for murder. Both women hope to transfer their notoriety into showbiz fame with the help of the prison matron Mama Morton, who knows how to pull all the right strings. However, they each first need to gain their freedom, and both hire slick lawyer Billy Flynn for assistance.
Chicago debuted on Broadway in 1975, but was overshadowed that year by A Chorus Line. It wasn't until the 1996 revival, based on an earlier Encores! concert staging, that Chicago garnered the accolades it deserved. The book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb is structured as a vaudeville comedy, thus allowing for laughs and pizzazz while addressing the seedier side of life. The dance-filled storytelling exudes the sexy and steamy style of Fosse, and the dialogue showcases the wit and humor of Ebb at his best.
The score by John Kander and Fred Ebb is filled with now classic tunessuch as "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango" and "Nowadays"which fit perfectly with this sophisticated, yet seductively stark story. Kander's thrilling music, with instantly memorable melodies, is best showcased in "Roxie" and "All I Care About." Ebb, who died in 2004, provides masterful lyrics throughout. His work on "Class," as Velma and Mama Morton convey their dismay over the lack of manners by their 1920s contemporaries, uses everyday words and unforced rhymes magnificently to create a witty song well-suited to the characters and commenting wryly on the times and situation at hand. It is in "We Both Reached For the Gun" that Kander and Ebb, along with Fosse's unique vision, are at their finest. This not-so-subtle rendering of lawyer Flynn's manipulation of the press is theater genius.
Several of the lead performers in the touring production were here when the tour played Cincinnati five years ago. Returning as Roxie, Bianca Marroquin is again wonderfully playful and endearing, and captures the naïve vulnerability and desperation of the character perfectly. Terra C. MacLeod is less effective as the tough-as-nails Velma. Though she is a fierce dancer, Ms. MacLeod's portrayal is oddly mannered (almost coming across as a campy imitation of Bebe Neuwirth), and many of the lyrics are lost during her early songs. Tom Wopat's take on lawyer Billy Flynn is aptly cold and calculating with just enough charm thrown in, and is very well sung. Carol Woods was also on hand during the last tour stop here, and is warm, polished and soulful as Mama Morton, and deservedly a crowd favorite yet again. As Amos, Roxie's sad-sack husband, Tom Riis Farrell quickly gains the audience's sympathy, and is appropriately downtrodden and drying funny. D. Micciche thankfully balances camp with a degree of believability as Mary Sunshine. The energetic and talented ensemble executes the high-octane choreography with grace and sex appeal aplenty.
Much of the success of this revival version is owed to Walter Bobbie's sharply focused direction and style, which strip away all that is unnecessary and shifts attention to the strong score and book, as well as the fluid and seductive choreography by Ann Reinking, closely based on Fosse's original work. Musical Director Andrew Bryan leads the extremely capable onstage band. John Lee Beatty provides just enough scenic design, and lighting by Ken Billington is effective and apt. William Ivey Long's costumes are all in shades of black and heighten the sex appeal factor.
The story of Chicago, which reminds us of our current culture's disgraceful obsession with celebrity trials and tribulations, seems as timely as ever as demonstrated by cable TV's non-stop coverage of minor issues like Tiger Woods' car accident. The show continues to be a slickly presented, superbly crafted and well performed musical in this national tour.
Chicago continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through December 6, 2009. For tickets, call 513-621-2787. Visit www.chicagothemusical.com/ustour.php for more information on the tour.-- Scott Cain