When this revival of Chicago first opened on November 14, 1996, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, it was an astonishing automaton; an intricate, gold plated machine which entertained by virtue of its sharp, unexpected movements and dazzling, highly polished surfaces. It quickly moved to its current home, the Shubert Theatre, and in the ensuing years has, in the grand tradition of its producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, maintained its status as a hit Broadway musical by a constant succession of more or less successful Roxie Harts and Velma Kellys.
Generally, musicals entering their fourth year are to be avoided. They have reached the point where cues and choreography are sloppy beyond redemption, where performances are phoned in, and where everyone involved is just marking time playing out the last months of a successful run to ever diminishing audiences of theatrically unsophisticated and uncritical tourists.
Happily, such is not the case with Chicago. With the recent addition of Sandy Duncan and Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Chicago has actually gained in stature, developing into a production far superior to the original. With Sandy and Mamie, Chicago has something it never had before - a heart.
Sandy Duncan brings a fresh and genuinely heartbreaking vulnerability to Roxie Hart, the ageing chorine who attempts to parlay a murder into one last shot at her dream of the big time. Those who can only picture Duncan as Peter Pan or a wholesome TV mom are in for a shock. Duncan's Roxie is a trashy loser with a Southern accent who never gives up because she's not quite smart enough to realize she'll never win. This is a performance that at any moment could descend into cheap pathos, but never does. Duncan always was a superb singer and dancer, but here we are forcibly reminded what an uncompromising and accomplished actress she is.
Mamie Duncan-Gibbs is a revelation; a brash and sultry Velma Kelly who knows how to play the game, but who never gets a break. Imagine a young Eartha Kitt with attitude to spare, a voice that shakes the rafters, and the most gorgeous pair of legs on Broadway. Imagine a young Tina Turner, who dances as if Fosse's choreography were second nature to her, hell-bent on making sure you will remember no other rendition of "All That Jazz" but hers. Imagine - but, why imagine anything? See it for yourself. Mamie Duncan-Gibbs is giving the kind of triumphant performance that legends are made of.
If it's pure theatrical magic you seek - and it's been in pretty short supply lately - take another look at Chicago this holiday season. As incandescent as Sandy Duncan and Mamie Duncan-Gibbs are individually, together onstage they generate enough megawatt voltage to light up Broadway from Battery Park, as the song goes, way up to Washington Heights.
All of this theatrical magic is pretty heady stuff, and it could not exist without sharp and defining contrasts, here provided by Brent Barrett's strong, unrepentant and media-savvy Billy Flynn, P. J. Benjamin's bewildered and touching Amos Hart, and Marcia Lewis, still the best Matron "Mama" Morton ever.
In summary, allow me to make the observation that you only think you've seen Chicago. You ain't never seen nothin' like this Chicago! Catch it again before, like all real magic, it disappears. You deserve to see the best.
Photo of Sandy Duncan by Uli Weber.
Theatre: Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 12 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Current Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 7 PM, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 PM.
Holiday Schedule beginning November 23: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM. Added performance Friday, November 26 at 3 PM. No performance Wednesday, November 24 at 2 PM.
Holiday Schedule beginning December 21: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 7 PM, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM. Added performances Monday, December 27 at 8 PM and Thursday, December 30 at 2 PM. No performance Friday, December 24 and Saturday, December 25 at 2 PM. No performance Friday December 31 and Saturday, January 1 at 2 PM. No performance Wednesday, January 5 at 2 PM, or Wednesday, January 12 at 2 PM.
Schedule beginning January 17: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 7 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM. Added performances Monday, January 17 at 2 PM and Monday, February 21 at 2 PM. (Curtain time exception: Tuesday, January 25 and Tuesday, February 1 at 7 PM.) No performance Monday, January 17 at 8 PM or Monday, February 21 at 8 PM.
Ticket prices: $80, $65, $55 and $35
Rush tickets: A limited number of $20 Rush tickets are available only at the Box Office on day of performance. Limit two (2) tickets per person, subject to availability. The line forms early; names are taken and bracelets are handed out at 8 AM (10 AM on Sundays). When the Box Office opens, Rush tickets are sold in the order that people arrived.
Standing Room: Sold only on day of performance and only at the Box Office, after the performance is sold out (including the Rush tickets).
Tickets online: http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM. Sunday Noon to 6 PM (open until curtain when there is a 7 PM performance).
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200, or outside the NY metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets by snail mail: Chicago, PO Box 998 Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998
Tickets by e-mail: Tickets@telecharge.com