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What's New on the Rialto

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What's New on the Rialto

Roxie rocks CHICAGO

Chicago, The Drop Dead Musical, opened last night at Las Vegas' newest hotel on the strip, the Mandalay Bay. With a star-studded cast led by Chita Rivera, Ute Lemper, Marcia Lewis, Ben Vereen and Ernie Sabella, this latest revival of the 1975 Broadway musical exploded on the scene and will probably become a staple of entertainment in the glitzy city of entertainment.

Already there are 6 other companies of Chicago playing throughout the world, all produced by Barry and Fran Weissler. The noir musical, considered way ahead of its time in 1975, seems to be more contemporary today will all the blazing headlines of not only tabloids, but mainstream newspapers. Chicago deals with "murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery... all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts." Getting away with murder hasn't been this much fun since the O.J. or the Menendez trials.

The score, written by Fred Ebb & John Kander, is flawless, flawless to the point that it doesn't have one bad tune and the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse is filled with a cynicism which, at times, provokes some good chuckles.

In addition to the story and music what really makes this show sizzle is the choreography which is hot; it's energetic and it's very sexy. Bob Fosse choreographed the original production in 1975 and Ann Reinking faithfully reproduces the dancing in the "Fosse Style" for this 6 time Tony Award winning revival. Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie directs this cast as usual with his keen eye.

Chicago's two leading ladies, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, woo reporters for headlines and vie for sleazy attorney Billy Flynn's representation. In various productions I have seen that the focus of attention can either be on Roxie or Velma but in this outing the balance is achieved with the casting of stars Chita Rivera and Ute Lemper.

Rivera, who played Velma in the original 1975 production, plays Roxie and what a wonderful Roxie she is! With the energy of a woman half her age she gives a thrilling performance. In the number "Roxie" she demonstrates quite skillfully why she has become a Broadway legend. Ute Lemper, a legend in her own right, proves to be a perfect match for Rivera. Lemper's Velma won the Olivier Award in London for Best Actress in a musical and one can easily see why. Her acting, singing and especially her dancing skills make her a triple threat in the world of musical theatre.

Marcia Lewis and Ernie Sabella come direct from the Broadway production where they have garnered critical acclaim. As Matron Mama Morton, the corrupt prison warden, Lewis is still as fresh as when she opened on Broadway almost 3 years ago, singing the classic song "When You're Good To Mama" and the riotous duet "Class" with Lemper in act two. Lewis was nominated for a 1996 Tony Award for this performance.

Ernie Sabella as Amos Hart, Roxie's husband, turns in a heartwarming and at the same time funny performance. His 11th hour number "Mr. Cellophane", in lesser hands, is always good, but Ernie turns it into a showstopper. Ben Vereen, as sleaze ball attorney Billy Flynn, reminds us of recent attention grabbing trial lawyers. The duet, "We Both Reached For the Gun" with Rivera was a hoot and also a treat to see this great hoofer from the Great White Way back on the boards.

M.E. Spencer plays a Hedda Hopperish reporter by the name of Mary Sunshine. This is Spencer's debut on the stage and a nice debut it is, getting the right laughs and hitting the right notes.

Chicago also has a razor sharp ensemble of singers and dancers. Turning in some stellar performances are Rick Pessagno as Fred Casely and Regi Jennings as The Jury. (He's a riot as he and Chita do a duel of scene stealing during the trial.)

If you're heading out Vegas way, head on over to Chicago at the Mandalay Bay Theater. It is not to be missed especially because you'll have the opportunity to see this remarkable cast, including the fabulous Chita Rivera who, as Roxie, rocks Chicago!

See you Sunday!

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