Sleek CHICAGO Has Plenty of Polish But Lacks Grit

Sleek CHICAGO Has Plenty of Polish But Lacks Grit

The national tour of CHICAGO that arrived at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre Tuesday night has glimmers of the shine and glitz at the heart of this musical about Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly’s ruthless journey towards fame and notoriety—timely themes that have allowed the current Broadway revival to play on for two decades. But this touring rendition of Kander and Ebb’s musical about the bloodthirsty quest for celebrity (literally in the case of wannabe vaudeville star Hart and her Cook County jail counterpart Kelly) overall plays it safe. While the design elements for this production capture the alluring nightclub atmosphere, this CHICAGO needs more of an edge. William Ivey Long’s iconic black shimmering costumes add some sensuality in the wardrobe department, and John Lee Beatty’s set design creates a sparse cabaret space that seems glitzy underneath Ken Billington’s glamorous lighting. With music direction by Rob Bowman (who also conducts), CHICAGO’s orchestra sounds swell—allowing us to luxuriate in Kander’s score.With tour direction by David Hyslop (Walter Bobbie is the original revival director) and David Bushman recreating Ann Reinking’s choreography, CHICAGO certainly meets the technical demands of a pleasant evening at the theater. But this production never goes far enough in setting up the contrast between the show’s gritty content and the shiny performative exterior (as fans will know, many of CHICAGO’s numbers break the fourth wall and are performed directly to the audience). I can’t help feeling that this rendition needs a little more “Razzle Dazzle,” so to speak.

The production is not without some sparkling moments. The limber ensemble supplies astonishing physical tricks throughout the show, and they display amazing dexterity in their execution of the choreography (just try to count how many times these dancers break out the splits). The dance moves themselves, however, are occasionally out of sync.

Audiences will find much to enjoy in the performances of some of CHICAGO’s biggest hits. “Cell Block Tango” is first-rate here as performed by Velma (Terra C. MacLeod) and company (Lauren Gemelli, Allison Blair McDowell, Taylor P. Conant, Aurore Joly, and at this performance, Stephanie Moloney.) These six “merry mistresses” not only have vocal chops but also give this beloved number the punch it needs to succeed. As Billy Flynn, John O’Hurley (best known for his recurring role on “Seinfeld”) proves an adept singer and nails “We Both Reached for the Gun,” in which he crafts a new story for Roxie (Dylis Croman), spinning her act of vengeful murder into one of self-defense. O’Hurley sings this number with aplomb. It’s worth noting, though, that Croman nearly steals the show with her elastic physical antics as Flynn’s “marionette.” It’s definitely a bravura moment.

Croman turns up the charm as Roxie overall and especially commands the stage for her titular number. She clearly delights in her extended monologue to the audience leading up to the song and milks the moment for all its worth—we absolutely feel that this is a woman who will go to any length to make it in showbiz.

As Velma, MacLeod provides an amusing but less commanding presence. MacLeod’s antics of desperation in “I Can’t Do It Alone” are quite fun, though her take on “All That Jazz,” the show’s famous opening number, needs more heat. As cheery reporter Mary Sunshine, D. Rattrell provides plenty of laughs—and astounds with a killer falsetto. Roz Ryan makes a fine Mama Morton, though she could dial it up a notch.

It’s certainly entertaining to watch CHICAGO in its namesake city. And for those who only know the musical from Rob Marshall’s Academy Award-winning 2002 film starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Renée Zellweger, it’s a satisfactory stage production experience. But this CHICAGO isn’t quite daring or dazzling enough to make the headlines.

CHICAGO plays through May 15 at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets and more information.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Read the original review on PerformInk.

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