Usually by about the 10th or so year of a stage musical’s tour, the seams start showing. Corners are cut. Actors of minimal experience and comparable salary demands are brought in. The orchestra gets smaller. Happily (a cynic might say quite surprisingly) that’s not the case with “Chicago.” The titillating tale of “murder, greed corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts” maintains its savagely satirical edge thanks to cast’s collectively mesmerizing execution of Ann Reinking’s Bob Fosse-infused choreography, fine vocals, a killer band and a genuinely inspired role reprisal by John O’Hurley.
In this Roaring 1920’s-era musical, O’Hurley plays the slick attorney Billy Flynn. With a set of pipes worthy of a true crooner, he fits the role as if it had been written for him; with his toothpaste ad-worthy crocodile smile and smooth-as-an-oil-slick charisma, he flimflams and razzles and dazzles until you totally believe he could get away with murder. He’s also in on the joke, instilling the role with a ridiculously bloviating self-importance that lets YOU know HE knows that “Seinfeld’s” J. Peterman-level celebs get way more attention than they deserve and that today’s white-hot sensation is tomorrow’s cold succotash.
The fleeting, superficial nature of fame and the public’s insatiable appetite for salacious scandal is at the heart of “Chicago.” This is, after all, the story of a pair of murderesses whose crimes(and subsequent media frenzy) turn them into stars. Never mind that between them, Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin) and Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod),leave three dead bodies in their wake. The important thing is that they’re young and photogenic. “You got nothin’ to worry about,” Flynn tells Roxie, “It’s all a circus.” And so it is, at least for everybody except an innocent Hungarian(no celebrity factor here) who gets hanged because she puts too much faith in the integrity of Uncle Sam.
With a killer score by composer John Kander, scathing lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Fosse, “Chicago” remains a subversively entertaining indictment of the American Way. (“Justice and America, blah blah blah. Redemption, blah blah blah.”)
As the jaded, tough-as-nails, energetically conniving Velma, MacLeod has the sinewy moves and the world-weary, cool you’d expect of a showgirl who commits a double homicide while passing through Cicero. Marroquin’s doe-eyed, irresistible Roxie is a fine contrast as a newcomer on a fast learning curve. Together, they’re fantastic. When they launch into “My Own Best Friend”, they deservedly bring the house down.
And the ensemble keeps moving to a 14-piece, blisteringly hot orchestra under the direction of Jesse Kissel.
“Chicago” has been touring more or less consistently for nearly 17 years. It’s still fabulous.