With the value of star running backs plummeting across the NFL, it’s understandable that former Tennessee Titan Eddie George would seek refuge in a slightly less-tumultuous line of work: acting.
Alas, George doesn’t break any big runs in “Chicago,” the long-running — and long-touring — Broadway hit making its latest stop in town. Instead, his performance as the razzling-dazzling defense attorney Billy Flynn gets repeatedly stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Then again, with a few notable exceptions, that’s true of this entire production.
When: Through May 12
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Tickets: $30 — $100
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Maybe it’s finally time for “Chicago” to follow George’s example, and hang up its cleats (or at least reconsider its future). It’s a pity, because the show’s about as relevant as it’s ever been. The Capone-era story of twin murderesses-turned-celebrities Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, played here by Dylis Croman and Lana Gordon, respectively, should be taking on new life.
Instead, this latest tour feels musty, with the performers going through the same old Bob Fosse-inspired motions, with the choreography’s required air of lithe, feline sensuality nowhere to be found. You can almost feel the bored resignation of not just these performers onstage, but also the hundreds that have come before them, as though general fatigue had been written into the stage directions.
After a first run in the ’70s directed by Fosse, this Kander & Ebb instant classic was revived on Broadway in 1996 where it was met with both commercial and critical acclaim as well as a bushel of Tony Awards (23 years later, that same production is still running). It opened in the era of the O.J. Simpson trial and it’s seen any number of absurd, fame-added celebrity trials and scandals come and go, landing in its namesake town where the embers of the Jussie Smollett firestorm are still smoldering. So maybe it’s not “Chicago” itself that needs some reinvigorating, but merely this incarnation, with perhaps some imaginative new director like Rachel Chavkin (“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” “Hadestown”) taking the reins? A person can dream, right?
There is one exception here to the general sense of rote recitation that plagues this latest tour, and its Croman, whose goofily spasmodic take on Roxie is immediately recognizable: She’s an overgrown theater kid, and the world is her high school cast party. This doesn’t click until the character’s eponymous semi-delusional showstopper, late in act one. Until then, Roxie mostly blends into the ensemble, even as everything revolves around her.
For the uninitiated: After murdering her lover and attempting to pin it on her pathetic, “Mr. Cellphane” husband, Amos (MADtv’s Paul Vogt), Roxie lands in warden “Mama” Morton’s (Jennifer Fouche) Cook County Jail alongside fellow murderer Velma. Roxie’s fortunes turn when she discovers that infamy has its perks; even in the ’20s, people loved true crime.
“Chicago” depicts a town where even the most cold-blooded homicide can translate to genuine stardom, so long as you’ve got that “It” factor generating front-page news. And like so many stories with cynical worldviews, the show’s astute observations on the tawdry yet fickle nature of fame have yet to go out of style. The same holds true for the music of John Kander and the lyrics of Fred Ebb (who also wrote the book with Fosse). The full-throated roar that greeted the introduction of “The Cell Block Tango” on Tuesday night was proof enough of that. And aside from the renewed interest in Fosse via the FX show “Fosse/Verdon,” it has to be said that his chic aesthetic — with costumes that are heavy on the black and light on the everything else — have a timelessness that comes in handy.
It seems ironic that a show like “Chicago” that so cleverly skewers celebrity culture would stunt cast former Heisman-winner George; the results here are not great. Although he lacks stage presence and vocal chops, it’s undeniable that George is endearing — which is part of the problem, actually, because Billy Flynn is anything but endearing. And while George has appeared in several local productions in and around Nashville, Tennessee, (including the roles of Othello and Julius Caesar at the Nashville Shakespeare Festival), headlining a national tour and filling spaces like the Cadillac Palace requires a level of stage craft that he doesn’t yet possess.
For now, it’s just show business, “Chicago”-style.
Alex Huntsberger is a local freelance writer.