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, Caroline O'Connor, Billy Zane, Rob Bartlett. Also starring Roz Ryan, R. Bean. With Dona Marie Asbury, Gregory Butler, Mac Calamia, Belle Callaway, Roxane Carrasco, Michelle DeJean, Shawn Emamjomeh, Gabriela Garcia, Michael Kubala, J. Loeffelholz, John Mineo, Sharon Moore, James Patric Moran, Michelle Potterf, Krissy Richmond, Michelle M. Robinson, Mark Anthony Taylor, David Warren-Gibson, Eric Jordan Young.
On November 14, the revival of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Chicago, directed by Walter Bobbie and with choreography by Ann Reinking, celebrated its sixth anniversary on Broadway.
How is the show doing as it prepares to move from the Shubert Theatre to the Ambassador at the beginning of January?
Happily, the production - much like its corps of superb actors, singers, and dancers - is in terrific shape.
For this musical, unlike so many others that have come (and gone) in recent years, is a tribute to the very soul of the theatre in which its progenitor Bob Fosse was a reigning king. It's as much about the people who perform it as it is about the merry murderesses of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly who skyrocket to fame after the murder of their husbands.
The set (by John Lee Beatty), the lights (Ken Billington), and particularly William Ivey Long's costumes are all heavily based on the City Center's Encores! production of the show that spurred the revival, but they all serve to illuminate the hearts and souls of the people who keep the dream of theatre alive. Each of the actors' vocal and physical lines are accented in meticulous detail so while you experience the wonderful score, the thought provoking story (by Ebb and Fosse, adapted by David Thompson), and the energetic dances, you're ever conscious of the human machines working underneath, marking with every motion the legacy of Fosse and musical theatre itself. When all the elements are working in such pitch-perfect harmony, how can the audience escape its spell?
Fortunately, even at this point in the show's life, it has attracted top-flight talent, some of its performers among the best of the many that have appeared in the show on Broadway.
Over the years, the Broadway company of Chicago has seen any number of luminaries in the starring roles, and the current production is no different. The primary above-the-title wattage is provided by film star Billy Zane. As Billy Flynn, Zane makes an impressive Broadway debut, less the experienced shyster of previous actors, but more an ambitious - yet no less devious - upstart. Zane croons his songs and acts his scenes with conviction, putting his own convincing and satisfying spin on the lawyer who's only in it for the money, though all he cares about is love.
Zane's obvious marquee value aside, the show's Velma and Roxie - the real stars of the evening - are superb. Charlotte d'Amboise is a vision as Roxie, putting her songs across with a strong voice and the dynamic personality with which she injects each of her scenes. She's also a top-notch dancer, making Reinking's Fosse-steeped steps look easy. Caroline O'Connor's Velma is similarly one-of-a-kind, second only to Bebe Neuwirth (the role's originator in the revival) of all the ones I've seen on Broadway. She telegraphs herself as one of a kind as soon as she begins her cat-like strutting through "All That Jazz," and she doesn't let up until the very end of the evening. She's got a spectacular belt, a keen common sense, and dances with a verve that defines each of her numbers anew.
As the prison matron, Mama Morton, Roz Ryan is at great ease with the other performers and the audience, and possessing a powerful voice that threatens to rock the rafters in her big solo, "When You're Good to Mama." Her comic duet with O'Connor later on, "Class," is equally effective, the two performers giving one honed comic performance. Rob Bartlett, as Roxie's almost invisible husband Amos, is great in his scenes, though his second act showstopper "Mr. Cellophane," in which he finally comes out of his shell, lacks the complete transformation into a full-on dynamo that has defined the best performers in this role. While every performer was giving it his or her all, R. Bean, was giving too much, pushing far too hard as the sob-sister Mary Sunshine. Bean's big song in the first act and climactic moments in the second were the only miscalculations this time around; pulling back would result in a more effective characterization and overall performance.
Special mention should also be made of four additional important performers: Michael Kubala, John Mineo, Michelle M. Robinson, and David Warren-Gibson are all members of the revival's original cast, still giving the show their all and then some. The names and faces of the more visible performers may change on a regular basis, but these four represent with talent and distinction the soul at the heart of Chicago that Bobbie, Reinking, and everyone else brought to the surface six years ago, and which still remains in blissful abundance.
At the very least, Chicago is as good now as it's ever been. It remains a heartening experience, a life-affirming dedication to the magic and art of theatre, and something that absolutely should not be missed. Though all shows must eventually close, the glory and genius of Chicago should be celebrated while it's here, and with any luck, it will still be gracing and energizing Broadway for many years to come.