BWW Review: Song, Dance and Cynicism--CHICAGO at Providence Performing Arts Center

CHICAGO, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, runs until this Sunday, May 7 at the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC).

One thing I like about writing reviews (aside from serving the public!) is the chance to learn something new almost every time: I never knew that CHICAGO, the musical is based on a 1926 play, a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice, by reporter Maureen Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on I Prohibition era Chicago, did you? The story grew that beautiful women would never be convicted and get the death sentence fro all male juries in Chicago. Even before Law and Order, stories were being ripped from the headlines! I also never knew that the show opened on Broadway in 1975, ran for nearly three years, took twenty years off, reopened in 1996 and has been running ever since. The much-decorated Broadway revival holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. I didn't know that. Did you know that?

The plot follows the travails ads machinations of two women rightly accused of murder, Velma Kelly (Terra MacLeod ) and Roxie Hart ( Dylis Croman ), as they try to save their necks by controlling their lawyer, Billy Flynn (John O'Hurley), the press and, in Roxie's case, her husband Amos (Paul Vogt ). Not exactly My Fair Lady, is it?

So what's to like? This show is almost all music-I'd bet ninety percent of the time-and can this cast dance and sing, and sing and dance. From the opening number, "All That Jazz," through to the finale they never missed a step or a note. I have always enjoyed "Cell Block Tango" ("He had it coming; he had it coming."), and the cast did not disappoint. Same for Paul Vogt's version of "Mister Cellophane." MacLeod and Croman also nailed "Hot Honey Rag." John O'Hurley consistently delivered as Billy Flynn-he sang, he hoofed, he pattered; in short, he had the old "Razzle Dazzle." That was a fun number. The music dominates the show, and the music is great.

So what's not to like? Man, this is one cynical musical. There are exactly two characters with redeeming social value, Hunyak (Nicole Benoit), a woman who was seemingly wrongly accused and Mr. Cellophane, Amos Hart. She gets hung, and he gets played for a sucker over and over again. The audience is put in the position of enjoying the leads get away with murder, or, in the case of Billy Flynn, rooting for the instrument on the miscarriage of justice. The show was fun, but I cannot understand the degree of its success. During her lifetime, Maureen Dallas Watkins resisted selling the rights to her story for fear murder and sex would be sensationalized. She was prescient.

CHICAGO runs at the PPAC, 220 Weybosset St. Providence until May 7. Evening performances are 7:30 weeknights, 8:00 on Saturday and 6:00 on Sunday. Matinees are at 2:00 Saturday and 1:00 Sunday. Tickets begin at $53.00. The box office can be reached at (401) 421-2787 or online at www.ppacri.org.

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