By Christopher Thomas
The company of the touring production of Chicago sits on black cabaret chairs lining the sides of the stage throughout the entirety of the production. They snap their fingers, roll their shoulders, roll their hips, adjust their lingerie, dart glances and smoke cigarettes.
These signature Bob Fosse movements spark the beginning of a tour de force of immortal choreography and enticing musical score and book by legends John Kander and Fred Ebb. As the show starts, audiences can be assured that they are in for a treat.
Murder. Greed. Corruption. Violence. Adultery. Treachery. Set amidst the razzle dazzle decadence of the 1920’s, Chicago is the story of Roxy Hart, performed by the enigmatic Dylis Croman. A housewife and nightclub dancer, Hart maliciously murders her on the side lover after he threatens to walk out on her. To avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media and her cellmate, Velma Kelly, by hiring Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer to transform her malicious crime into a barrage of sensational headlines, the likes of which might just as easily be ripped from today’s tabloids. For more information on the story or it creators, click here.
Croman brings a new energy to Roxie Hart, defining the character by her quirkiness, flirtatious nature and killer dance moves. Her comedic timing and physicality delights the crowds. Plus, she takes Fosse’s iconic choreography and makes it her own. In comparison, she surely outshines Terra MacLeaod’s performance as Velma Kelly. That being said, MacLeod—a veteran of the Broadway stage and a veteran of Chicago—still holds her own in the performance. MacLeod brings timing, quick execution and a robust musicality. She exudes confidence and poise as a seasoned performer who understands how to command the stage. As a duo, both women sell their performances. Their conflict and chemistry push the audiences to smiles, hoots and laughter. Surely they are giving it just the right amount of hocus pocus to create a show that’s splendiferous.
John O’Hurley takes the stage—to a full round of applause for his star status—with ease. His charisma and charm read just as well as they do in film and TV. While his performance doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the character, it surely entertains. The famous “they both reached for the gun” number where he and Roxie persuade the media through a metaphorical ventriloquist act is deliciously fun to watch. O’Hurley’s pleasant voice matches his striking demeanor, both of which attest that although he is aged, he’s still got it!
Of course, the costumes are perfect. William Ivey Long’s designs are right on point. The costumes succeed in creating an aura of sexyness without being too scandalous. The many shades and sheers of black fabric flattered each dancer’s movement. The tight pants, open shirts, and bare skin show off all the angles, curves and shapes that are so integral to the Fosse image. And yes, they wear titled bowler hats. And they still look every bit as awesome as they always have, especially when paired with the isolated Fosse gestures and movements. Choreographer David Bushman succeeds in capturing the essence of Fosse’s choreography while adapting it for this national tour.
At the start of the second act, the Chicago orchestra treats the audience to a huge, fun-loving performance of the Entr’acte reminiscent of the jazz big bands of the 1920’s. Music Director Rob Bowman even lets loose, waving his blond mop of hair to and fro throughout.
Throughout all of the second act, the one production element that truly dazzles is the lighting design. Ken Billington’s work helps elevate the production from feeling like a “concert version” into a fully staged production. His lighting sets the mood, and transports us from place to place throughout the show, even though the unit set remains as is. Truly fun to experience.
The show lacks some of the razzle that one might expect a touring production of the 1997 Tony Award Winning Revival of Chicago to embody. Many elements feel pared down, perhaps simply for the purposes of the tour, but while that’s disappointing, the true focus is on two things: Fosse’s awesome choreography and Kander & Ebb’s incredible book and score. These two elements are the heart of what has made Chicago the longest running American musical in Broadway history; and this touring production wonderfully highlights both.
As a whole, this production is what patrons would hope for in Chicago: fun, funny, sexy and full of great music. For an evening spent smiling from ear to ear at an iconic show, it’s totally worth the ticket.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Chicago” through May 15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. Chicago. More information and tickets are available by phone at (800) 775-2000, or online here.