BWW Reviews: Broadway Across America - Houston's CHICAGO is Wildly Entertaining
One of the most appealing aspects of Chicago is how quintessentially the production upholds the aesthetic of Bob Fosse, the original director and choreographer of the 1975 Broadway production. When the revival opened in 1996, Ann Reinking based her choreography on the style of Bob Fosse and Walter Bobbie directed the show to play like a vaudeville extravaganza. For the national tour, David Bushman's choreography flawlessly re-creates the work of Ann Reinking, making sure to highlight all of the angular momentum of Bob Fosse's designs, subtle finger wags, twists of the wrists, and "jazz hands." David Hyslop's direction for the tour highlights the dark humor and keeps the performance moving at a quick pace.
As murderess turned heroine, Paige Davis' Roxie Hart wins the audience over with her charisma. Her Roxie is a girl with big dreams and is unafraid to do whatever it takes to make her star bigger and brighter. At the top of the production, I was disappointed by how she talk sung "Funny Honey," but buy the time she was performing "Roxie," she had entirely won me over with her affable performance, killer legs, and sweet jazz vocal styling.
With astounding high kicks and a sultry alto voice, Terra C. MacLeod owns the stage as the intelligent and blunt Velma Kelly. Every time she takes the stage she delivers a powerhouse performance and thrills audiences with ease, especially during "I Can't Do It Alone," "My Own Best Friend," "When Velma Takes the Stand," and "Hot Honey Rag."
As the extremely confident and debonair lawyer Billy Flynn, Brent Barrett croons with a suave sensuality that makes the audience swoon as much as his supporting menagerie of showgirls. In performance, he simply charms with his effortless sophistication. Most impressively, he showcases impressive ventriloquist talent by barely moving his lips during "We Both Reached for the Gun."Rounding out the leading roles, Todd Buonopane as Amos, Carol Woods as Matron "Mama" Morton, and C. Newcomer as Mary Sunshine all do excellent jobs with their assigned roles. Todd Buonopane's Amos tugs on our heartstrings as he acknowledges how invisible he is, Carol Woods flavors her "Mama" Morton with astonishing vocal riffs and embellishments that elicit loud cheers and applause, and C. Newcomer's Mary Sunshine leaves the audience in stitches with her overdone sympathy and desire to see the good in everyone.
The way Chicago is staged and performed, the true stars of the show are the ensemble. In a Brechtian fashion, they are utilized in almost every scene and visible at all times whether they are involved in the action of the scene or not. The entire ensemble dances with incredible energy and pizzazz in each of the big numbers such as "All That Jazz," "Razzle Dazzle," and "Finale." Standouts in the ensemble include Shamicka Benn-Moser as the feisty and incredibly sexy Go-To-Hell Kitty, Thomas Bevan as Bailiff/Court Clerk, Ian Campayno's distinctively charactered and multifaceted Jury, Naomi Kakuk as the innocent Hunyak, Jon-Paul Mateo as the virile Fred Casely, and Laura Oldham as Annie.
My biggest complaint with Chicago is the technical elements of the musical. Perhaps seeing the film long before I ever saw it on stage hurt my ability to really enjoy these designs, but I find the almost entirely black Costume Design by William Ivey Long, the almost entirely black Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty, and the muted Lighting Design by Ken Billington to be too repetitive and uninteresting. While I know that the lack of colors and spectacle in the design elements purposefully forces the audience to engage in the quality of the cast's performances, I find myself missing the sparkle and radiance that makes the visual presentation of a Broadway musical so special in these subdued, monochromatic choices.
Whether you've never seen it before or if you've seen it 1,000+ times, Chicago is a staple and perennial favorite for theatergoers. The show embraces everything that audiences look for in a story-sex, murder, love, betrayal, lies, deceit, singing, and spectacular dancing. For those familiar with the film, you may find that last element is lacking in some ways as the dance numbers on stage are often more subtle than they are in the 2002 film; however, the staged production still wildly entertains.
CHICAGO, presented by Broadway Across America - Houston, plays Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002, now through November 17, 2013. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://houston.broadway.com or call (800) 952-6560.
Photos courtesy of Broadway Across America - Houston.
Paige Davis as Roxie Hart. Photo by Len Prince.