BWW Reviews: Barks, Simpson, Moyer, Lawless Headline Shields-Helmed CHICAGO at the Hollywood Bowl
There are a few things you can count on with Los Angeles summers: tank tops and sandals are required fashion staples, traffic is still a hellish nightmare even with kids out of school, and over at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl---that massive outdoor entertainment mecca that can seat a swarm of 17,000 patrons for acts as diverse as The Beatles to Barbra Streisand to Arcade Fire---there's always plenty of eye-opening (and, yes, ear-opening) surprises in store from their annual star-studded concert staging of a Broadway musical.
This year's offering raised many intrigued eyebrows upon its first announcement: that actress Brooke Shields---last seen locally in the pre-Broadway tryout of the musical LEAP OF FAITH and the stage play adaptation of THE EXORCIST---will this time be stepping behind the scenes and directing this year's Bowl summer showtunes showcase... CHICAGO - THE MUSICAL, that naughty-good, vaudeville-licious John Kander/Fred Ebb/Bob Fosse musical masterwork about a couple of murderous, celebrity-seeking femme fatales who both use their crimes as a stepping stone to gain further fame and notoriety, and to ultimately get their names up on marquis lights... providing they avoid the death penalty first. The show's starry opening night performance---marking Shield's directorial debut---was Friday, July 26 and continues with a pair of additional performances throughout the weekend.
And as with each annual summer musical at the Hollywood Bowl, the "stunt-casting" of high-profile actors---most of whom are famously known in entertainment realms outside of musical theater---automatically elevates the concert into a must-see theatrical event (even before the actual rehearsals for the show even start).
A gander at 2013's top tier cast list continues the tradition: Pop star/actress AshLee Simpson plays Roxie Hart; True Blood's Stephen Moyer plays snarky lawyer Billy Flynn; former eponymous sitcom star and now Price Is Right host Drew Carey plays Amos Hart; TV icon Lucy Lawless plays Matron "Mama" Morton; and, finally, UK stage phenom Samantha Barks rounds out the big name stars as vaudeville showstopper-turned-killer Velma Kelly (Barks, of course, recently raised her global profile thanks to her well-received starring role as Eponine in last December's big-screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning stage hit LES MISERABLES).
The anticipation to see such actors venture into live song-and-dance musical theater is always a thrilling one. Though, over the years of witnessing these Bowl spectaculars first-hand, the results of such casting choices have been, unsurprisingly, mixed. While there were no OMG jaw-droppingly outstanding Nicole Scherzinger-caliber (or, heck, even Dane Cook-type) surprises from a non-musical theater actor this year, the musical performances from this year's crop of stars have been largely pleasing.
A particularly nice surprise is hearing the old-school crooning of Moyer as Flynn. Not only can the guy mug while gliding up and down the stage as if he's ventured showtunes territory before, he can also---yes, ladies and gentlemen---even belt out the high notes in his solos in "All I Care About Is Love," "We Both Reach For The Gun," and, later, "Razzle Dazzle" without a noticeable hint of uncertainty (He even allows a funny but quick, blink-and-you'll-miss-it homage to his vampiric True Blood alter-ego in the latter number). Dashing and believably alluring, Moyer---already a seasoned stage play vet in the UK---should really think about cultivating Broadway musicals as a post-True Blood career transition. (I can see him play a Lt. Cable-type character, or am I alone in this?)