Thursday, February 25, 2016

Isn't it grand? Isn't it great? "Chicago" at The Playhouse certainly is!

Full disclosure: This is one of my favorite musicals*, largely for its incredible music and choreography.
*After initially learning about legendary choreographer Bob Fosse via Paula Abdul’s 1989 music video homage, I had to seek out all things Fosse-related. Later, I found Chicago and was completely taken by it. 

The cast of Chicago. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The longest-running American musical in Broadway history, the production features music and lyrics from iconic partners Kander & Ebb, book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, and a storyline that delivers all the salaciousness we adore (maybe "nowadays" more than ever): scandal, sex, murder, media frenzy, a perverse craving for celebrity.

To me, this show is quintessential Broadway – the way I envision shows might have been during the “old days” – no monstrous sets, flashy light shows or rock star-penned scores, but rather about the raw energy generated from dynamic music and choreography, and compelling characters. It delivers in every aspect.

The production set is stark, the costumes black and scanty yet sleek, the cast steamy and sexy. Hoots and cheers come from the crowd throughout the evening, but especially for the sizzling signature opening, All That Jazz, that sets the tone for the entire show. 

Tonight, the capacity crowd is noticeably heavy with women – I’m imagining groups of GNOs giggling madly at the “justified” murderesses of the Cell Block Tango in a warped female-empowerment moment.

Terra C. MacLeod plays a slick Velma Kelly – the former Vaudeville star serving time for the double-murder of her hubby and sister – with a perfect balance of sass and snark. You can almost feel yourself agreeing with her and Mama as they lament, “Whatever happened to class?”

Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Dylis Croman expertly plays up the unrefined Roxie's conniving and relentless nature, a woman who’ll not be stopped in her quest for fame – by a jilting lover, dull (if still-loving) husband or jealous inmate. The only thing that could stop her is the worst fate of all – waning public interest.

Jailhouse matron “Mama” Morton, played with command and style by Roz Ryan, lights up the crowd with her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama. (Incidentally, Morton now holds the record for most performances in a musical by a leading actress.) 

Other standout characters, of course, are the orchestra, who kept the audience animated, even dancing out the doors at the end; the compassionate Mary Sunshine (with a hilarious surprise), played by D. Ratell; and Billy Flynn, played by Tom Hewitt, who held an impressively looooooooong note in his number, All I Care About, to renewed cheers and hoots.

From the first notes of All That Jazz to the final sparkly curtain, Velma, Roxie and company kept us revved, rapt and ready to “paint the town” with them in their twisted pursuit of fortune and fame. This beloved musical is a night on the town you simply can't miss. 

Chicago runs at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through February 28.

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