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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Chicago at the Paramount

The old razzle dazzle is still going strong in the national touring company of Chicago which opened to a vociferous audience response at the Paramount. The spirit of Bob Fosse is always apparent in this streamlined version directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed "in the style of Bob Fosse" by Ann Reinking, based on the first historic City Center/Encores! presentation.

This road company features several vets of the show, with a new Billy Flynn in the person of Tom Wopat, who joined the tour here in Seattle. Wopat has the look and pipes for the role of the publicity-minded legal eagle who defends such "merry murderesses" as Roxie Hart, a would be chanteuse who gunned down her lover, and Velma Kelly, a vaudeville performer who killed her husband and sister when she caught them together. Wopat is too genteel and underplayed in the role at this point, but judging from his work in such shows as City of Angels and Annie Get Your Gun, he will undoubtedly find the tougher /sleazier edge that the role requires.

As of now, the unequivocal star of this Chicago is its rockin' Roxie Hart, Bianca Marroquin. With a look and style that recall a young Shirley MacLaine and a suitably smoky but never thin voice, Marroquin starts out well with her "Funny Honey" torch song spoof, does a great ventriloquist dummy riff in "They Both Reached For the Gun," and dances the hell out of "Me and My Baby," and the final "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag." Her initial vocal section of "Nowadays" is one of the more deeply felt and best acted versions of the number that this Chicago fan has seen. In general, Marroquin keeps it in focus that this is really Roxie's story, which is as it should be but often is not, since the role of Velma is of nearly equal size.

Playing Velma here is Reva Rice who has the looks, voice and Fosse patented moves down pat, but merely sketches in her characterization. Rice fails to sizzle and really own her opening "All That Jazz" spot, though she fares much better in the "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag" finale as well as holding her own with the marvelous Matron Mama Morton of Carol Woods in their eleven o'clock comedy duet "Class." Woods wows the crowd early on with her "When You're Good To Mama" and injects some welcome pathos into her tough cookie character.

As Roxie's cuckolded and nearly invisible sad sack husband Amos, Ray Bokhour really scores when he finally gets the spotlight on "Mr. Cellophane." R. Bean as the cloyingly overly effusive reporter Mary Sunshine shows off a most impressive voice, but might have gotten more of a surprise out of the character's big reveal by toning the characterization down a notch. And from the ranks of the superlative and inexhaustible ensemble, special mention should be made of Dante A. Sciarra's versatile one-man sketch of the Jury for Roxie's trial and Jillana Laufer's statuesque grace as the doomed murderess Hunyak. Conductor Vincent Fanuele and his musicians do an expertly rousing job with John Kander and Fred Ebb's zesty score.

Clearly a good many people in the opening night audience wanted to see Chicago onstage after first experiencing it in its justly acclaimed 2003 film version. Just as clearly, they were not disappointed, and what few tickets remain for the run here (two performances were added just last week) will probably be snapped up quickly.

Chicago runs through February 3 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th & Pine Streets in downtown Seattle. For further information visit www.theparamount.com.




- David-Edward Hughes



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