Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The show tells the tale of two 1920s women, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, awaiting trial for murder in the Cook County jail. Both women hope to transfer their notoriety into showbiz fame if they can gain their freedom with the help of slick lawyer Billy Flynn.
Chicago debuted on Broadway in 1975, but didn't become the megahit it is now until its 1996 revival, based on an earlier Encores! concert staging. The book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse is structured as a vaudeville comedy, allowing for laughs and pizzazz while addressing the seedier side of life. The dance-filled storytelling exudes the sexy and steamy style of Fosse, and the dialogue showcases the wit and humor of Ebb at his best.
John Kander and Fred Ebb's score is filled with classic tunes such as "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango" and "Nowadays," which fit perfectly with this sophisticated, yet seductively stark story. Kander's thrilling music is best showcased in "Roxie" and "All I Care About." Ebb, who passed away in 2004, provides masterful lyrics throughout. His work on "Class," as Velma and Mama Morton convey their dismay over the lack of manners by their 1920s contemporaries, uses everyday words and unforced rhymes magnificently to create a witty song well-suited to the characters and commenting wryly on the times and situations at hand. It is in "We Both Reached for the Gun" that Kander and Ebb, along with Fosse's unique vision, are at their finest. This not-so-subtle rendering of lawyer Flynn's manipulation of the press is theater genius.
As Roxie, Dylis Croman is playful and endearing, coming across as a combination of naïve kewpie doll and white trailer trash. Terra C. MacLeod is a fierce dancer, and portrays Velma with a tough as nails attitude that is befitting the character. Broadway favorite Jeff McCarthy (Side Show, Urinetown) is suave and debonair, while also matter of fact as lawyer Billy Flynn, and great vocally. Jennifer Fouché is warm, polished, and soulful as Mama Morton, and deservedly a crowd favorite. As Amos, Roxie's sad-sack husband, the delightful Paul Vogt is humorously sympathetic and appropriately downtrodden. D. Ratell balances camp with a degree of believability as Mary Sunshine. The energetic and talented ensemble executes the high-octane choreography with grace and sex appeal aplenty.
Revival director Walter Bobbie provides sharp direction and style, which strips away all that's unnecessary and shifts attention to the strong score and book, as well as the fluid and seductive choreography by Ann Reinking, closely based on Fosse's original work. Musical director Robert Billig leads the extremely capable onstage band featuring many local musicians. John Lee Beatty's bare bones scenic design is just enough, and the lighting by Ken Billington varies between flashy and stark, as the setting requires. William Ivey Long's sexy costumes are all in shades of black.
Chicago, which often reminds us of our modern obsession with celebrity trials and tribulations, seems as timely as ever. The show continues to be a slickly presented, superbly crafted, and well performed musical in this touring production.
Chicago, through March 25, 2018, at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati. For tickets, call 800-294-1816. Visit chicagothemusical.com/ustour/ for more information on the tour.