By Ian Rigg
Who says that murder’s not an art? The new Broadway tour of Chicago rolling through its namesake town still puts the ‘laughter’ in ‘manslaughter’ 44 years after its original debut. Because like sex and murder, you’ve got to keep changing it up.
This bold, diverse and surprisingly subversive Broadway tour has a dialed-up focus on black comedy and satire with its own flavor of cool factor, while simultaneously somehow amplifying the erotic energy of the piece. Where other productions of Chicago have been the seductive, luxuriously laid back, in-the-pocket-delivery affair with a cigarette afterwards, this is a high-octane romp that tears the sheets and leaves you panting afterwards.
Walter Bobbie makes bold directorial choices for the tour, like embracing diversity, and doing away with the Master of Ceremonies in favor of more organic introductions divided among the rest of the streamlined cast. This new production trims fat off the book and tweaks the score as it doubles the orchestra and halves the clothes. Sure enough, John Lee Beatty’s ingeniously simple set is primarily meant to house the big band in levels, framed by gilded edges (which are even slid down at one point) and matching proscenium: the gold is fitting, because boy do they all play.
William Ivey Long’s scintillating costumes reflect this sensibility: reducing and retooling while remaining larger than life than ever before. While channeling jazz age boudoir and remixing Cabaret, they’re also designed with a modern flair that would fly off the racks at Akira. The chic and sheer all-black ensembles (and copious skin) doubly pop under Ken Billington’s evocative and dramatic lighting design.
With the FX series no doubt fresh in audience’s heads, Fosse’s choreography is as killer as it ever was. But while truly honored with revamped acrobatics and moves by David Bushman, old footage may look like a Bible study in comparison.
The ensemble of performers who bring it all to life simply knock it out of the park with personality, precision, and devil-may-care flair, from a killer chorus to its powerhouse principles.
Andrew Eckert’s probably the funniest and most despicably alluring Fred Casely out there.
As the innocent Hungarian Katlyn Hunyak, Alexa Jane Lowis plays rope tricks with your heart with her final “not guilty.”
Ratell’s operatic control and coloratura makes for a marvelous Mary Sunshine.
Where productions often depict Amos Hart as a lovably slow-witted but lugubrious sad sack worthy of pity, Paul Vogt’s portrayal is deliberately dumb. Spectacularly dumb. A few clowns short of a circus, this Amos is willfully ignored rather than born as invisible background scenery. With that voice, how couldn’t you see him?
Jennifer Fouché wows as a Mama Morton with lungs of brass, chuckles of honey and peerless comedic timing.
Why is NFL Legend Eddie George in a Broadway Musical? Because he’s good at running plays! But critics are often unfair with stunt-casting: this performer is no joke, bringing an amiable panache and charisma to his fast-talking take on the iconic Billy Flynn. While some may find the Heisman trophy holder is no Tony winner, or call for more razzle dazzle, his belt on the end of “They Both Reached For The-eeeeeeeee gun” proves what capability lies within him.
But this production belongs to the characters it’s always been about: Chicago’s own killer dillers, those scintillating sinners, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
Lana Gordon tears her teeth into her role, filling the rhinestone shoes like it’s easy as one, two, three, four, five, splits, spread-eagles, backflips, flip-flops, one right after the other. Her remarkable Velma is less the slinky, cunning femme fatale and more a jagged razor blade hidden inside a tube of lipstick, next to a line of crushed uppers. She is hungry, lethal, unique and stoically, resentfully resilient. And the option ups she takes with a belt to bring the house down? That alone could murder a man.
And the simply superb Dylis Croman shines as foxy Roxie Hart. Her take is genius: it’s like if Harley Quinn meets Carol Channing meets the public perception of 2002 Paris Hilton in a fast car straight to hell. As a celebrity-obsessed downtrodden egomaniac without an ounce of tact, Croman gives an acting masterclass in charming self-delusion and hunger to be adored, with the vocal chops and dance skills to match.
Chicago has endured not only due to its acerbic wit, unforgettable tunes and timeless style, but its ability to ride the wave of the topical, like when the revival opened during the OJ Simpson debacle. In the impeccably executed courtroom scene of the 2019 version, a tattered gray American flag drapes from the rafters, completely devoid of color – save when it flashes blood-red with light. Another sensational slaying, another miscarriage of justice, another win for corruption, proves just another flash in the pan as attention spans and hopes decrease with every pull of a trigger.
In a perhaps unprecedently cynical time of our nation’s history, this production proves it still sparkles with life as it dances with death. The vaudeville tribute is so-called “cockroach of Broadway” because it’s able to hold a fun house mirror to any era in which it’s performed. Anyone Instagramming below the Cadillac Palace’s marquee recognizes Roxie’s aching desire to be recognized, to be famous: in fact we all do. But the evergreen story also finds itself colored by the blood on the floor of classrooms and movie theaters as it sings to the jaded resignation, erosion of justice, embracing of nihilism and slowly-choking narcissism of the Americans sitting in the audience… and all that jazz.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Chicago” through May 12 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.