Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
RRA - Broadway Across America - Miami, and Barry & Fran Weissler present the Kander & Ebb musical hit Chicago at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts starring Sofia Vergara as Mama Morton.
The original Broadway production of the musical Chicago opened on June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre, where it ran for 936 performances. Featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, Chicago is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins. The revival of the musical, which opened at the Richard Rogers Theatre on November 14, 1996, received six Tony Awards. A silent film version of the original play was released in 1927, a second film version called Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers, was released in 1942, and an Academy Award-winning film version of the Kander-Ebb musical starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere was released in 2002. For more information on the musical you may go to www.ChicagoTheMusical.com.
The show is set amidst the corruption and decadence of Chicago in the 1920s. Chicago is the story of housewife and aspiring night club dancer Roxie Hart. While her husband Amos is at work, Roxie maliciously murders her lover, Fred Casely, when he threatens to walk out on her. With the help of Chicago's top criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn, she attempts to use the media to dupe the public and avoid conviction. She follows the lead of fellow inmate and murderess Velma Kelly in manipulating the sensational headlines generated by the scandal to both win her case and launch her career.
Terra C. MacLeod is commanding as Velma Kelly. MacLeod is a fierce dancer with exceptionally strong stage presence. It is difficult to watch other dancers when she is on stage. Her pale skin, dark eyes, and mile-high cheek bones are reminiscent of Bebe Neuwirth who performed the role on Broadway in 1996-1997. Her dark take on the character provides contrast for that of Roxie Hart. Bryn Dowling is great fun as Roxie Hart and handles herself well through the pacing of the lengthy song "Roxie." Her commitment to the bubbly, coy nature of the character needs to be bigger, however, to match that of MacLeod. It is the disparity of the characters that should make them so wonderful together.
With the slick delivery of a used car salesman, and a polished plastic smile, Brent Barrett is the quintessential Billy Flynn. He brings smooth comic timing and an exceptionally good singing voice to the role in the song "Razzle Dazzle." Ron Orbach is endearingly befuddled as Roxie's long-suffering husband, Amos Hart. Orbach is a gifted character actor/singer whose facial expressions carry the role to the very last row.
Hispanic TV star Sofia Vergara is stunningly beautiful, but her youth and beauty work against her as Mama Morton. Her playfully feminine demeanor is a far cry from the butch and brassy one required in the role of Mama Morton. Vergara has a pleasant sounding singing voice and sings every note correctly, but her accent makes it very difficult to understand some of her lines. When she came on stage, stood in one spot, and sang "When You're Good To Mama" without acknowledging in any way a single one of the song's ample double entendres, it was clear she was in over her head.
Vergara comes to this national tour production of Chicago fresh from her Broadway debut in the role April 27th - May 24th, and will be returning to complete her run June 1st - 7th. It is common for established, long-running Broadway shows to boost ticket sales by inserting celebrities into the cast. In the past Chicago has seen such seemingly unlikely cast members as Ashlee Simpson, Usher and Kelly Osbourne. In this case, it was incredibly unfair to over-publicize and under-prepare a respected actress such as Vergara for a performance in a genre in which she is inexperienced.
The live, on-stage orchestra, led by Eric Barnes plays the score perfectly. The brass is hot and the percussion is tight. The on stage space taken up by the orchestra limits scenic design opportunities, so the set seems serviceable but uninspired. Costumes by Long are spotty. One of the dancer's (Nellessen) costume is so blousy and ill-fitting it pulls focus, and Vergara's sparkling, figure-flattering, Matron outfit looks like she just came back from dinner on South Beach. Despite a great story, Fosse-inspired choreography and some admirable individual moments, there is a joy missing in this production, which makes it fall a bit flat.
This production of Chicago appeared through May 31, 2009 at the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts in Miami, FL. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County is made possible by the public support of t he Miami-Dade County Major and the Board of County Commissioners, the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, and the Miami-Dade County Tourist Development Council. It also receives generous support from private and corporate contributions to the Performing Arts Center Foundation of Greater Miami through it's Membership Program, the City of Miami Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, the Dade Community Foundation, The MAP-Fund, the Sate of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For information or to purchase tickets for the many diverse offering of the Arsht Center, you may contact them at 305-949-6072, or visit them at www.arschtcenter.org.
The successful musical team of John Kander and Fred Ebb met in 1963. Their first musical to be produced on Broadway was Flora the Red Menace, which opened in 1965, and marked Liza Minnelli's Broadway debut. Kander and Ebb collaborated on the Broadway musicals Chicago, Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Woman of the Year, The Rink, The Happy Time, Steel Pier, Zorba, The Act, And The World Goes 'Round, Fosse, and Curtains. They also wrote the music for the movies New York, New York starring Liza Minnelli, and Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand. Together, Kander and Ebb won three Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmmy Awards. In 1998 they received Kennedy Center Honors for their contributions to theatre and music. Ebb passed away in 2004 while collaborating with Kander on the musical Curtains. Kander completed the musical with the assistance of librettist Rupert Holmes, and Curtains opened on Broadway in 2007. That same year John Kander and the late Fred Ebb received a Drama Desk special award for "42 years of excellence in advancing the art of the musical theater."
RRA - Broadway Across America - Miami is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over five million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.