BWW Review: CHICAGO at The City Theatre Lacks the Razzle Dazzle
CHICAGO opened at The City Theatre this past weekend, and despite the fact that the show can work well in a small, minimalistic setting, and the fact that I have several friends involved in this production, I am very sorry that I have to say that for me the potential for this production is clear, but the execution is lacking. This is a shame because the relevance of a show in which an American society is more focused on celebrity than decency seems incredibly potent and pointed in current times.
The insidious trap of CHICAGO is that since it can be done with basically a table and six chairs and virtually no set, if you choose to go this route you must fully embrace the style of the show. This production was able to hit the style in some aspects, like costuming, but it couldn't quite match the visual style to the performance and pacing of the show. The show is written to be slick, fast paced, and seductive. For example, there are scenes written where a character switches from talking to one person in one location to talking to another person in a different location mid-line without any break in action. You have to be able to honor this stylistic smoothness to give the production the flow, feeling and pacing it needs. That pacing is notably absent, and this production suffers from agonizingly slow scene changes and a lack of urgency in the scenes themselves.
That being said, I also have to take into account that I saw opening night. A lot of things that I witnessed may well settle in and become smoother as the show continues to run. There were numerous technical issues in the run I saw including microphones not being turned on until the middle of scenes or general popping and sound problems, and several moments where actors were in no light and the light board operator seemed unable to figure out how to bring up lights in the appropriate area. Looking at the program I see no mention of a lighting designer, so I'm guessing it was just generic area stage washes being used instead of lighting specific to this show. If my guess is correct that is very disappointing because that kind of acceptance of generic and mediocre technical elements really diminishes the potential of the production. If my guess is incorrect then they just must have been having a really rough night on the lighting cues. Combine that with actors forgetting lines, losing lyrics, not remembering/being behind in the choreography, etc., and the overall feeling is that this production, in general, is under baked. These are all issues that can, and likely will, improve as the run continues, but they were very evident on opening.
Now please note, I'm not saying that there weren't people involved in the show who put in good work, and, despite some hiccups, no one in the cast seemed to be lackadaisical or uninvested in their efforts. Emily Perzan has a fantastic, jaded sass that makes her Velma Kelly very fun to watch, and the band, under the music direction of Thomas Azar, brings all the fun and jazz of the Kander and Ebb score to life wonderfully. There are also some performers in the ensemble who correctly embraced the style of the show, like Buddy Novak and Lariena Armstrong, who are able to bring some dark glee to the proceedings. But despite their efforts they alone cannot drag this show back to the world it demands, and indeed needs, to thrive.
All in all, this production could have worked so much better than it did. The baseline is there, the potential is there, and I very much hope that as the run continues the product rises to match the potential.
The show runs Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through September 10th. Tickets are available at www.citytheatreaustin.org.