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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Name on Everybody’s Lips
is Gonna Be Roxie

Also see Bob's review of The Women of Lockerbie

Chicago
Michelle DeJean
The name on everybody’s lips who sees the current national touring company production of Chicago at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark should be Michelle DeJean. Her performance as Roxie Hart is so fresh, individual and memorable that hyperbole could lead an overly enthusiastic critic to call it a star-making performance. However, unless they already are perceived to have names with drawing power, touring company performers and Broadway replacements are generally not promoted by producers and make little impact on the public consciousness. In fact, DeJean just played Roxie on Broadway for three weeks (exchanging places with Robin Givens who in turn joined the touring company for its Detroit engagement). It is unlikely that many of us were even aware of this.

So I’ll leave DeJean’s future up to the theatre gods, and just take her performance as a taking off place to note that Fran and Barry Weissler are to be congratulated on the absolutely top drawer quality of the third national tour of the City Center Encores! presentation of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb’s (lyrics) musical vaudeville. With the Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse book streamlined by David Thompson, this production turned what had been a succes d’estime in 1975 (although it ran over two years) into one of the longest running, most successful American musicals of all time.

The enthusiasm and talent of the cast, the precise sharpness of the performance including its technical aspects, and the pristine look of the physical production are commendable. A number of performers have played these roles both on Broadway and on tour, and some have moved up to assume larger roles. These may be factors in the apparent high morale of the cast. Although professionalism is always expected, the performance goes beyond that.

Director Walter Bobbie has not just allowed, but appears to have encouraged Michelle DeJean to bring a fresh interpretation of Roxie to the table. Statuesque and full figured, DeJean eschews any gamin qualities, playing Roxie as a bombshell babe who, for the most part, is having a cheerful, unexamined and uncomplicated love affair with herself and her attributes. DeJean’s Roxie exudes an ingratiating, cheerful naivety that places us on Roxie’s side. Even though she surely is guilty of murder and other immoralities, this Roxie has the soul of an innocent. Furthermore, her vocals are powerful and bring out all the humor and nuance of the lyrics. DeJean is not primarily a dancer and, while the effort shows, she moves well and her enthusiasm in the dancing duet finale with Velma more than carries the day.

Terra C. MacLeod, who played the role on Broadway for an extended period, is harsher and colder as Velma. MacLeod is a terrific dancer and brings a dramatic intensity to her Velma. She also is a fine singer. Unfortunately, MacLeod has a slight lisp which is obvious when she is singing. Greg Evigan is a lightweight Billy Flynn although he sings well and acts smoothly, perhaps too smoothly, in an easy lounge singer style. The depth and cynicism cannot help but be discernible in the writing, but it is missing in Evigan’s performance. It is always a pleasure to see Carol Woods, and her “Mama” Morton vocals have a terrific jazz quality, particularly her Louis Armstrong style vocalese at the end of “When You’re Good to Mama.”

The balance of the cast is excellent. A veteran in the role, R. Bean is a flawless, second to none Mary Sunshine. Kevin Carolan is a very good Amos. The featured and chorus performers (one and the same here) carry a heavy part of the workload in this particular musical, and all are exemplary. Among the quite beautiful “merry murderesses of Chicago”, Jillana Laufer is a particular standout as Hunyak. Her long limbed, graceful dance movement is a thing of beauty. Outstanding among the male contingent is Kevin Neil McCready who plays Fred Casely and others.

Gary Chryst is credited with recreating Ann Reinking’s ‘in the style of Bob Fosse” choreography.

The name on everybody’s lips for the past ten years has been Roxie, but this week, for those who see Chicago at NJPAC, it also may well be Michelle DeJean.

Chicago continues performances through April 2, 2006 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (Prudential Hall), One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102. Box Office: 888-466-5722; online: www.njpac.org/.

Chicago Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; directed by Walter Bobbie

Cast:
Velma Kelly……………..Terra C. Macleod
Roxie Hart……………….Michelle Dejean
Fred Casely………..Kevin Neil Mccready
Sgt. Fogarty……………………..David Kent
Amos Hart…………………Kevin Carolan
Liz………………….Nicole Bridgewater
Annie………………………………….Ivy Fox
June………………………Theresa Coombe
Hunyak……………………..Jillana Laufer
Mona………………………….Jill Nicklaus
“mama” Morton……………...Carol Woods
Billy Flynn……………………..Greg Evigan
Mary Sunshine………………………...R. Bean
Kitty………………….Melissa Rae Mahon
Harry…………………….Wilson Mendieta
The Doctor……...Erich Mcmillan Mccall
Aaron………………………David Bushman
Bailiff…………………………John Carroll
The Jury…………Christophe Caballero


Photo: Paul Kolnik


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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