Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Chicago Returns To San Francisco

Also see Richard's review of Sharon McNight at the Plush Room

Producers Fran and Barry Weissler knew they had a good thing going when they decided to have another lengthy tour of Kander, Ebb and Fosse's Tony winning musical Chicago after the razzmatazz musical caused a film box office sensation and walked off with an Academy Award for best picture. The new stage tour opened in Syracuse, New York this year with yet another Velma and Roxie for the road. Marcia Lewis Bryan is repeating her role as Marton Mama Morton, and "Backstreet Boy" Kevin Richardson is Billy Flynn at the Golden Gate Theatre.

This is my ninth version of Chicago, starting with the original in 1975 with Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach at the 46th Street Theater where it ran for 898 performances. I saw the new version of the musical with Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. I have seen the musical in London and Las Vegas and I have always found it, as Brantley of the Times called it, "a pulseracing" musical.

Chicago is based on the real life story of Chicago cabaret singer Mrs. Belva Gaertner (Velma) and housewife Mrs Beulah Annan (Roxy), both of whom killed their men in 1924. The trials were covered extensively in the Chicago press, especially by Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins. The two women were found not guilty and went on a vaudeville circuit throughout the midwest. Ms. Watkins went on to write a comedy about her tongue in cheek newspaper reports and it premiered in New York on December 30, 1930 (I saw a revival of this play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several years ago). Fox also did a film called Roxie Hart starring Ginger Rogers in 1942, so these gals have gotten around since 1930.

The current revival is not as sharp as prior versions I have seen. There is a certain edge missing in this production, but the mandatory vitality and attitude is present. There is chemistry between Velma and Roxie, especially in the second act with "Hot Honey Rag" at the end. The dancers are well drilled, and ensemble numbers like "Cell Block Tango" and "We Both Reached for the Gun" still sparkle with humor. The dancers are still cocking their heads, sloping their shoulders and undulating their hands Fosse style.

Brenda Braxton (a Tony nominee for Smoky Joe's Café in 1995) as Velma is the brassiest and most successful of the three leads. She is athletic and has great rangy moves, big toothy smiles and a certain amount of contempt. She is first rate in the song "I Can't Do It Alone." Bianca Marroquin as Roxy (she played the role both in Mexico City and New York) starts out very weak in the first song, "Funny Honey." However, once she gets the feel of the stage, she becomes a pixieish and somewhat naïve Roxy. Marroquin is a cross between a young Shirley MacLaine when dancing and Mary Tyler Moore when smiling. She makes a perfect clowning puppet in "We Both Reached for the Gun," but does tend to over-mug during some of the scenes. Bianca is a better dancer than singer.

Keith Richardson joined the cast in our fair city and he goes to the London cast in the fall. Richardson does not have that oily look, and he is rather bland in his acting. He looks more like a straight arrow than a shifty attorney and croons rather than belts "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle."

Ray Bokhour is sublime as Amos Hart and he does an excellent rendition of "Mr. Cellophane." He looks like Curly of "The Three Stooges" in his scenes. Marcia Lewis Bryan repeats her role as the Matron and is great in her "Class" number with Braxton. She is also a powerhouse singing "When You're Good To Mama." She captures the sleaze that is prevalent in the show. The orchestra under the direction of Vincent Fannuele captures the pungent rhythms of Kander and Ebb.

Chicago plays through August 24 at the Golden Gate Theatre in association with The Best of Broadway series. Tickets can be obtained at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office, The Curran Box Office, through Ticketmaster by calling 415-512-7770; at all Ticketmaster ticketcenters and through Groups of 20 or more call 415-551-2020.

The opening of the national tour of The Graduate began August 9 at the Curran and 42nd Street comes to the Golden Gate September 2nd. Phantom of the Opera is currently playing at the Orpheum.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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