Review: CHICAGO THE MUSICAL Still Dazzles at Bass Concert Hall

Get yourself out this weekend and experience the Razzle Dazzle yourself.

By: Nov. 03, 2022
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Review: CHICAGO THE MUSICAL Still Dazzles at Bass Concert Hall
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If Chicago the Musical is still running on Broadway after December 8th, 2031, it will beat PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for the longest running musical on Broadway. It does hold the record for longest running American musical, though. No wonder, as its themes of criminal celebrities, slimy lawyers and criminal justice employees, and false narratives, seem an apparently timeless theme. Celebrating its 25th year, Logan Floyd and Katie Frieden head up an energetic and bright cast in the roles of Velma and Roxie respectively, in the touring show that runs through this weekend at the Bass Concert Hall.

CHICAGO was originally written as a straight play by the journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins who adapted it from her own columns written in 1920's Chicago about two murderesses who captured the attention of the public and were acquitted by all male juries. (Ginger Rogers starred in a film version of the play, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, and Richard Gere starred in the 2002 film adaptation of the musical.) Watkins refused to sell the rights to Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon after repeated offers, but after her death, Watkins' estate sold them to Fosse, Verdon, and producer Roger Fryer.

CHICAGO the Musical was then written by the inimitable musical duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb, with additional help from Bob Fosse on book, and the show premiered in 1975. It ran until 1977 for 936 performances. Bob Fosse (Fosse, Fosse... I couldn't help myself, forgive me) put his iconic stamp on Chicago and his choreography continues to be a star of the productions we see today.

CHICAGO's got quite a pedigree, with the original production starring Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly and Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart. Jerry Orbach originated the role of Billy Flynn. When Verdon had to step down for throat surgery, even Liza Minelli stepped in for a stint as Roxie. Anne Reinking eventually became Verdon's replacement. Reinking went on to choreograph and play Roxie in the 1996 revival in a concert for the City Center Encores series in New York. The reception of the concert version was so well received it moved to Broadway, with Bebe Neuwirth as Velma, Reinking as Roxie, Joel Grey as Amos, and James Naughton as Billy Flynn.

In our case, the production is just as it was set in the concert series that then moved to Broadway those 25 years ago. This is a presentational show, rather than representational, and calls for cast members to relate to the audience quickly. This took a moment in the case of the performance we attended Tuesday night. I was concerned we might be getting a show that would be delivered ably and professionally, albeit without the heart of true presence. It's easy to coast on ability and the popularity of the show itself in the case of a classic like this. The cast warmed up soon enough, though. And it was clear with this audience there were plenty of fans to support each number individually and the musical collectively.

It is fair to expect performers to bring us superior quality entertainment at this level, and after warming up to us, they delivered. Good thing, as I think a good portion of us were there to see a familiar iteration of show we've seen before. Nonetheless, there were some standouts - or maybe I just had favorites like the rest of the audience. I do have a tendency to enjoy the work of character actors. G.A. James as the ever optimistic Mary Sunshine is a bright light, and Brian Kalinowski is hardly cellophane. The rest of the cast delighted as well. It was lovely to bask for the two and a half hour run time in a finely executed production delivered by a generally flawless cast. Real dancing, real singing. No Disney characters in sight, no strange interpretations of classic works to twist past our original understandings of - nope, it was reassuring in this case to get exactly what we came for: The Razzle Dazzle of Chicago the Musical. At one point watching the show, I began to feel like some normalcy had returned to my life as a theatre goer and reviewer. I do mean this as high praise. The arc of this timeless classic and the certainty of great artists getting to do what they do best, actually left me feeling a little more warm and secure about life in the climate of the last few years. So get yourself out this weekend and experience the Razzle Dazzle yourself.

CHICAGO the Musical

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Bass Concert Hall

2350 Robert Dedman Dr, Austin, TX 78712

Nov 1-6

Tickets available here

2.5 hours run time


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