Chicago Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Music by John Kander. Book by Fredd Ebb and Bob Fosse. Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Bob Fosse. Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Scenic design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Lighting design by Ken Billington. Sound design by Scott Lehrer. Orchestrations by Ralph Burns. Choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse. Directed by Walter Bobbie. Based on the presentation by City Center's Encores! Starring Charlotte d'Amboise, Pia Douwes, Tom Wopat, P.J. Benjamin, also starring Roz Ryan, D. Sabella, with Donna Marie Asbury, Gregory Butler, Belle Calaway, Roxane Carrasco, Michelle DeJean, Bernard Dotson, Shawn Emamjomeh, Gabriela Garcia, Denis Jones, Gary Kilmer, Michael Kubala, Jeff Loeffelholz, John Mineo, Sharon Moore, Michelle Potterf, Greg Reuter, Michelle M. Robinson, Mark Anthony Taylor, Jennifer West.
A lot has changed in the year and a half since I last saw the Broadway production of Chicago. In addition to moving from the Shubert Theatre to the smaller Ambassador, the Oscar-winning film version of the musical helped make Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly household names.
But one fact remains: In order to really understand these characters or their lives, you simply have to see them onstage. Film can capture a great deal, but it can't accurately reproduce the energy or excitement that comes from decisions being made, people's hearts breaking, and complex dance steps being effortlessly executed, all before your eyes, in real time, on a Broadway stage. These elements all remain blissfully present in Chicago, along with the full roster of irresistible John Kander and Fred Ebb songs and Ann Reinking's sizzling, Fosse-inspired choreography.
But it's quite possible, even if you're familiar with this revival, that you've never seen the show quite the way it is now. I wasn't expecting Chicago to change a great deal just because of the size of the Ambassador - after all, the Shubert isn't exactly cavernous - but change it has. Everything seems much more immediate now - the performers are closer and they're less hesitant about interacting directly with the audience; this makes it much easier to get wrapped up in their triumphs and travails.
This story - about the volatile nature of celebrity and America's way of making heroes out of its least heroic figures - has always seemed timely, but has taken on even greater relevance in the age of reality television, when just about anyone can become a star. Merry murderesses Roxie and Velma do it the hard way - the former by killing her illicit lover, the latter by offing her two-timing husband - but their goal is the same, and they captivate even as they repulse.
That's what's always made Chicago special, and it comes through even more clearly now. The production might not explode in quite the way it once did, but its events now unfold on a much more personal level. This allows the show to more easily indict the audience in its conspiracy of entertainment and condemnation - you're more personally involved, so you'll feel that much better when they succeed and that much more deflated when they fail. Emotions could dissipate in the Shubert; now they're unavoidable.
Everything else about Chicago remains sharp and lively: Walter Bobbie's incisive direction here makes one wonder how the same man could be responsible for this season's leaden revival of Twentieth Century; Reinking's choreography is still expertly performed by some of Broadway's best dancers; and the elements of the physical production (sets by John Lee Beatty, costumes by William Ivey Long, and lights by Ken Billington) seem every bit at home at the Ambassador as they did at the Shubert.
Discussing the cast can sometimes be quite difficult, as performers tend to come in and out and make return visits with astonishing frequency. But I hope you're lucky enough to catch Charlotte D'Amboise - every time I see her in the role, I become more convinced she's the best of all possible Roxies: a perfect dancer, a fine singer, and an actress and comedienne of beguiling depth. (Her "Roxie" monologue, a major first-act centerpiece, remains a comic tour de force, and the strongest I've seen.) Other Chicago stalwarts include P.J. Benjamin, still great as Roxie's meek husband; Roz Ryan as a blistering "Mama" Morton; D. Sabella as one of the few Mary Sunshines who refuses to overplay the challenging role; and Gregory Butler as an often magnetic Fred Casely.
I caught Pia Douwes as Velma, and while one of the most unusual I've seen, she's an effective combination of kitten and viper; her devil-may-care attitude has few emotional highs or lows, but slithers around the in-between with surprising seductiveness. Her voice, while not a huge belt, is nonetheless rangy and compelling. Tom Wopat lends a real authority to greasy lawyer Billy Flynn and sings the songs with tremendous conviction, but hasn't yet found all the nuances (primarily comic) in his role.
If that's a bit unfortunate at the present, it's unlikely to remain an issue
for long, and its impact on the full experience of seeing Chicago - on
Broadway, as it was intended - is still unmatched by most others that have
come since the revival opened in 1996. It remains a tight, exciting evening
of musical theatre, and Chicago unquestionably belongs and will always
belong to - and on - Broadway.