BWW Review: The Heat of CHICAGO Cools at Virginia Samford Theatre

BWW Review: The Heat of CHICAGO Cools at Virginia Samford Theatre

CHICAGO is a temperature rising musical that won 6 Tony awards and is the second longest running show in Broadway history. It has signature energy with a grand reputation. CHICAGO is supposed to be a musical with a ton of explosive, decadent jazzy energy of the 1930's. The legendary Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb wrote this amazing musical that captures the turmoil of unbridled sex, booze and lawlessness in the roaring 30's. The show is a popular selection, a piping hot dinner order; heavy on the sex appeal with a side order of female moxie. Unfortunately, somewhere in the making of this production, the kitchen got the order wrong.

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham and Jan D. Hunter bring to life the jazzy duo Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. The ladies have definite chemistry, but they just did not supply the signature energy to fuel this show all the way through. Their stage presence and dancing started off strong, but seemed to become draggy and at times labored, especially into the second act. There is only so much repeated shimmying one can do. The story is about to rival dynamic showstoppers, Velma and Roxie. Two ladies who fast acting ways led them to being locked up for crimes of passion. They each hold an energetic drive to get free from jail and to the stage; one with their name on a marquee. The characters are hot in temperament and drive. Both leads seemed to struggle with maintaining this component. The Broadway level intensity felt watered down to a good cabaret performance of highlights of the show.

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham brings a sharp street attitude and vocal chops for the role. Hunter has a jazzy voice and demeanor for the role of Roxie, but seems to play the role solely for laughs. Without the sexy heated spark of the character, Hunter's performance plays like a generically comic character, not the firecracker of Roxie Hart. They get high marks for singing. They have great vocals. Their specific chorography felt completely watered down, especially in their final number. The leads missing that essential heat to drive the show made the overall effect sluggish.

Choreographer Carl Dean brought the ensemble some smooth nods and expressions to Fosse's moves. The dancers gave notable subtext to each move; very focused and crisp. Choreography has wonderful mixtures of raw sexy cool, expressive and dramatic jazz and feathery Busby Berkley. The solid and smooth dancers in the cast did a majority of the legwork to keep the show hot and energetic. Dancers of note that really popped on stage were Brandon Barranco, Daniel Bussey, Haley Baker, Sam Purkey, Tawny Stephens and Jasmine Johnson.

Nick Crawford delvers a comedic gold as Roxie's mousey and forgettable husband Amos. He brings a cartoonish warmth and killer voice. Stephen Fister shines as the slick and shady attorney Billy Flynn. He grasps the audience with confidence and vocal presence from his first entrance. Murrell Wilkinson shines as Mary Sunshine. He brings the house down with campy delivery and a gleeful embrace of classic vaudeville character work. Suzanne Man as Matron Mamma Morton was brash with a belting voice and demeanor.

Mandy Thomas's lighting design paints a steamy perfect canvas for the performers to move around. Ben Boyers's simple industrial set is perfectly arranged to give a tight city feel with room for the dancers to roam. Michael King's music direction gives a swinging jazz ensemble. They were jumping with a full fat horn section, slappy banjo, kickin drum and bass. King's hot playing had keys flying off of the piano.

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham and Jan D. Hunter are two long time Birmingham theater headliners. They have wanted to do CHICAGO for many years. Higginbotham tells me "Jan and I have been friends for 25 years and we have always had dreams of doing this show before we got too old, so to speak." Hunter agrees. "It's been on our bucket list for such a long time and to finally have the opportunity to do it is a privilege. The music is iconic. What musical theater person doesn't know this score? The most thrilling part for me is getting to do this with my bestie, Kristi." The two friends have a wonderful natural chemistry on stage. Higginbotham reflects, "Even though the characters in the musical are not friends, at least not till the very end, I think the audience will enjoy us bickering at each other so to speak, throughout the production."

Overall, I did find this production of CHICAGO enjoyable. I was expecting more of an consistent energetic "umph" from the leads. Without that, I felt the show's energy lacked cohesion from the beginning. It's opening weekend. If they can find that spark, this show will be one hot CHICAGO.

Virginia Samford Theatre

CHICAGO

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Music by John Kander

Directed by Jack Mann

Choreographer - Carl Dean

Music director - Michael King

Virginia Samford Theatre

1116 26th St S, Birmingham, Alabama 35205

Jan 25 - Feb 11, 2018

Thur/Fri/Sat - 7:30p (Sun 2:30pm Matinee)

Tickets $15/$30/$35

For tickets and info visit virginiasamfordtheatre.org

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From This Author David Edward Perry

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