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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Chicago Razzle Dazzles ‘Em at the Paramount

Chicago
Terra C. MacLeod and Ensemble
The national touring company of Chicago returns to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre just two years after its last visit. Opening night audience response was beyond solid, clearly indicating that a good hit movie version (recently reissued in a deluxe DVD version) has helped keep this revival going strong, both on the road, on Broadway, on the West End and elsewhere. And it must be a pleasant revelation to those who are only familiar with the film to hear several of the wonderful John Kander/ Fred Ebb songs which were cut from the film (particularly Velma and Roxie’s "I Am My Own Best Friend" and "When Velma Takes the Stand").

This time around the Bob Fosse inspired choreography (originally re-staged "in the style of Bob Fosse" by Fosse protégé, one-time amour and past Broadway Roxie Ann Reinking) is billed as re-created by Gary Chryst. Re-created a bit more freely perhaps, if memory serves, but with dancers on the level of those in this company only the real Fosse purist will notice or mind. From "All that Jazz" to "Roxie" to "Razzle Dazzle," the ensemble radiates slinky, stylized excitement, and Bob would surely approve of that.

The book of Chicago by Fosse and Ebb, and indeed the Kander/Ebb songs as well, give an advantage to the actress playing secondary murderess Velma Kelly. Terra C. MacLeod uses this textual and musical advantage as well as her standout triple threat talents anhd subtleties in her line and lyric readings to steal the show. Michelle DeJean, though a fine singer-dancer, mugs and overplays Roxie’s acting scenes too much, and lacks the sympathetic edge of folks like Gwen Verdon and Renee Zellweger in the film. The competitive edge between Roxie and Velma works well between the pair, however, so their closing "Nowadays"/"Hot Honey Rag" (the latter with the original Fosse choreography) is indeed scintillating.

Greg Evigan, star of TV camp classic B.J. and the Bear, is lackluster as Roxie and Velma’s attorney Billy Flynn. He is also too boyish and clean cut to capture the character’s dark underbelly. As for his singing voice, well, it reminded me of Marlon Brando singing Sky Masterson in the film Guys & Dolls - and Brando’s singing was actually stronger and more characterful than Evigan, who at best is (mostly) on key.

As prison Matron Mama Morton, the redoubtable Carol Woods encores the role from the last Seattle tour stop and still gives her considerable all to her featured spots on her solo "When You're Good to Mama" and her "Class" duet with MacLeod. Another returnee, R. Bean as the fluttering sob-sister reporter Mary Sunshine, isn’t as vocally impressive on the demanding "A Little Bit of Good" as in the past, and has gone from giving an entertaining account of the role to being way over the top with it. Kevin Carolan as Roxie’s lame-duck sad sack spouse Amos Hart doesn’t nail the pathos and sympathetic quality the character requires, and his solo on "Mr. Cellophane" is nothing special either.

Standouts in the high-octane ensemble are Nicole Bridgewater as feisty murderess Liz and (returnee) Jillana Laufer as the memorably pathetic Hungarian murderess Hunyak. Conductor Vincent Fanuele and the mostly Seattle based orchestra do an expertly rousing job, with Kander and Ebb evergreen score sounding as sassy as can be, though the sound system at the opening night performance did no one any favors. John Lee Beatty’s handsome, minimalist set has traveled well, and Ken Billington’s lighting design as well as William Ivey Long’s costumes remain stellar achievements.

It would probably amuse Bob Fosse greatly that Chicago, now a record-breaking long run revival, has been embraced so fondly, when it was a Tony award shut-out in his own stellar 1975 staging, going up against A Chorus Line. Any wagers that the upcoming A Chorus Line revival, which is an altogether softer edged show, won’t be as big a success nowadays?

Chicago, runs through May 21 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th & Pine Streets in downtown Seattle. For further information visit www.theparamount.com.


Photo: Paul Kolnik



- David-Edward Hughes



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