To see Chicago or not to see Chicago, that is the question
The AT&T Performing Arts Center kicks off its Lexus Broadway Series with the classic musical, Chicago. Opening night at the Winspear Opera House was a rousing success, with an audience that spontaneously clapped and cheered throughout, then unhesitatingly leapt to a standing ovation at the finale.
There are several reasons Chicago has endured, becoming the longest running American musical in Broadway history. For one thing, like Shakespeare’s classic play, Hamlet, even if you’ve seen it before, you want to see it again.
Why is that?
Because with the right actors, the musical Chicago is fresh and exhilarating. This ensemble, featuring the talented John O’Hurley, is just such a cast.
Chicago: Still relevant in the 21st Century
Another reason for Chicago‘s enduring appeal is its continued relevance to this day and age. While Chicago’s character of the malleable and forgiving Mary Sunshine is a far cry from today’s probing and relentless Nancy Grace, many parallels remain.
The show is based on the real-life criminal cases of two different women – a vaudeville singer and a laundry worker – both accused of murdering their lovers under rather damning circumstances.
In 1924, the journalist, Maurine Watkins, covered their cases for the Chicago Tribune in a flamboyant and nearly joking style that turned the pair into media darlings. Who knows what would have happened to these ladies without her portrayals of them as innocent, “jazz babies,” pushed to the edge by their men’s betrayal, wild music and illegal booze?
Both women were acquitted by all-male juries, playing upon the conception of females as frail creatures capable of snapping from the pressure of external forces. It was extremely rare for white women, especially pretty white women, to receive the death penalty in this era. (Given the recent Casey Anthony trial, the whole issue of pretty white women and sensational murder trials comes to mind, too.)
Chicago‘s cynical take on the way in which these Prohibition-era murders were turned into entertainment for the masses still strikes a nerve in this era of reality TV stars who, while not exactly criminals, are often not particularly admirable. Even so, the media catapults them to fame and fortune as they capture the public’s fascination.
In 1926, Watkins fictionalized the two women and the media circus surrounding their murder trials in a stage play called Chicago. Watkins later became a born-again Christian and it’s speculated that she regretted how her play glamorized their escapades. Whatever the case, Bob Fosse was unable to purchase the rights to Chicago for his musical until after she died.
Chicago: A Talented 2012 Touring Cast
As I mentioned earlier, one of the pleasures of the musical Chicago is in seeing what different actors bring to these familiar roles.
Over the years, the cast of Chicago has included the likes of Christie Brinkley, Jerry Springer and Billie Ray Cyrus. As you can imagine, each of these performers brings their own certain something to their roles.
This time around, we have John O’Hurley in the role of the smarmy yet savvy lawyer, Billy Flynn. With his deadpan delivery and commanding voice, John O’Hurley is the perfect fit; his looks and style are reminiscent of the comic genius, Leslie Nielsen.
Terra C. MacLeod stars as Velma Kelly, a woman accused of the double homicide of her sister and husband. I liked how even her speaking voice had a certain twang to it that seemed straight from an old movie.
Tracy Shayne plays Roxie Hart, another woman accused of murder, who comes off as both ditzy and calculated in her quest to make it big in vaudeville at all costs. Shayne’s press conference scene with O’Hurley was especially funny.
Ron Orbach, (Jerry Orbach’s cousin), plays Amos Hart, Roxie’s long-suffering husband. His performance of “Mr. Cellophane” had the audience cheering and clapping as he turned what could have been a forgettable number into one of the most poignant moments of the evening. I, for one, cared for his character way more than I did for either of the two leading ladies, both of whose characters seemed too cold and narcissistic to relate to.
Kecia Lewis-Evans as Mama Morton brought the house down with her rendition of, “When You’re Good to Mama.” Her voice is so capable and expressive that I hung on every word. I had no idea where she might take each phrase.
D. Micciche had the audience laughing with overly vibrato vocals that perfectly served the character of Mary Sunshine, an impressionable journalist covering the women of Murderess Row who is easily swayed by their dramatics.
Lenny Daniel delighted the audience with his chameleon-like shifts from one character to another as he played The Jury in Roxie Hart’s trial.
Chicago 2012: Understated Staging Highlights a Talented Cast
One thing that sets this musical apart is, well, the sets, which are very sparse. In addition, the only color in this production comes from spotlights since, with a few exceptions, the cast members are clad entirely in black and gray. In this age of flashy special effects, Chicago’s understated stage production serves it well and further showcases its talented 2012 touring cast. I highly recommend this show!
What: Chicago, a Tony-award winning musical
When: August 14 – August 26, 2012
Where: 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Price: Tickets start at $30. Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime: Two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission.
NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
Photo credits: All photos provided courtesy of the AT&T Performing Arts Center