Chicago is on fire again!
"They say if you live long enough that you run into the same people." That
was said to me by Chita Rivera, star of the Mandalay Bay production of Chicago
which opens tonight in Las Vegas. Running into Rivera was not just a coincidence
by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, we knew each other way back when, but for
me, my theater going circle is now complete.
There are certain times in the theatre when you see something and that something
makes an indelible impression that will simply never be erased. And that is how it
was at the 46th Street Theater in June of 1975. I listened to the rousing overture
and then up through the stage on an elevator emerged the legendary Chita Rivera as
Velma Kelly in the new Kander & Ebb musical Chicago. With a flask of booze
under a garter she sauntered forth and sang ... "Come on babe, why don't we paint the
town ... and all that jazz." And then she quite simply tore the house down. I can't
tell you how many times I saw this production but let's just say I was a regular weekly
visitor during its 898 performance run.
When the revival opened in 1996 I was back in the same theater, now called
the Richard Rodgers, and I sat there thinking of those haunting memories of seeing
this show with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. How I longed to go back in time,
to witness those 2 great ladies just once more. And I loved Bebe Neuwirth and
Ann Reinking. Still, I had that longing. And now, thanks to Barry and Fran
Weissler, I can now be put out of my misery.
It's 24 years later and Chita Rivera is back in the musical, this time as Roxie
Hart opposite Ute Lemper's Velma Kelly. And she's back with a vengeance for
not only will she go down in history as the very best Velma Kelly, but will be
known as a killer Roxie Hart as well.
I had my doubts, or did I? Actually, I think I was the very first person on the
web to publicly state that Chita should do the show again. One person e-mailed
me to notify me that I was certifiable. When rumors started circulating that it
was possible that Rivera would be doing the show, and in Las Vegas, my heart
skipped a beat. When it was announced, I got drunk.
Sitting in the Mandalay Bay's new theater during the first preview, I waited for the
familiar music; up through the stage came Ute Lemper and she sang "All That Jazz." At the
end ... Roxie makes her entrance ... "O-h-h-h-h-h Fred! Nobody walks out on me!"
And then bang, bang, bang and "I gotta pee." Well, that made two of us.
Back in 1996 I wrote an article here on this website called "Chicago 96 vs
Chicago 75" and a writer at WNET was doing a piece on Kander & Ebb and
referred to that article, saying something like "an Internet critic, like a kid in a
candy store, pulls out all the superlatives with his review of Chicago."
I chuckled over that. But I ain't done yet.
Oh, we'll have a review for you and I'll certainly be dusting off the superlatives
for Marcia Lewis, Ben Vereen and Ute Lemper and the rest of the cast.
As for Chita, well, the woman should be arrested for arson and attempted theft. While
she almost steals this production, it can't be denied that she has set Chicago on fire again
and this time with dynamite! What she did to "All That Jazz" in 1975 she does to "Roxie"
The show opens tonight and we'll be there and at the party afterward. We'll have a
special Rialto column on Friday to bring you the latest on the fire in Las Vegas.
Oh Toto, it's so good to be home again.
See you Sunday!