BWW Review: CHICAGO at Rochester Broadway Theatre Leauge
If you see steam rising out of the top of the Auditorium Theatre over the next few days, or if East Main Street feels just a little bit hotter than usual, it's because Chicago, Broadway's longest running American musical--and certainly its sultriest-- is in town. And while you may come for the fishnets, you'll stay for the passion and intrigue that this staple of Broadway always delivers, from the opening song to the final curtain call.
Set during the 1920's in the city after which the show is named, Chicago tells the story of nightclub sensation Velma (Terra C. MacLeodd) who murders her philandering husband and backstabbing sister, and the city's slickest lawyer, Billy Flynn (Peter Lockyer), who is set to defend her. But when Roxie (Dylis Croman) winds up in prison for killing her lover, Billy takes on her case as well -- turning her into a media circus of headlines. Neither woman will be outdone in their fight against each other and the public for fame and celebrity, though not for lack of trying.
When it comes to the stuff that Chicago is famous for-the brilliant choreography, big musical numbers, burlesque aesthetic, eye candy (male and female)-this production does not disappoint. "Cell Block Tango" and "All That Jazz", arguably the show's most recognizable songs, are highly entertaining, but lesser-known "We Both Reached for the Gun" steals the show. This scene features Billy at a press conference recreating Roxie's murder of her husband using Roxie as a marionette to tell the story. The physical comedy is pure brilliance.
Both Lockyer's Flynn and Croman's Roxy inhabit their characters wonderfully, Flynn as the greasy attention-crazed attorney (though really more of a sleazy talent agent) and Roxy as the manipulative seductress. The show-stealer however, as is the case in many productions of Chicago, is "Mama" Morton (Jennifer Fouche), who blew the roof off the place with "When You're Good to Mama."
This production's choice to put the orchestra against the back wall of the stage gives it the authentic nightclub look-and-feel, despite the show being mostly set inside a prison. In many ways it casts the band as another character in the show, particularly the ways in which characters interact with the maestro throughout the story.
While its "longest-running American musical" status is prominently flourished as an accolade-as it should be-it would be disingenuous not to note that the show could use some freshening; after all, 23 years is a long time! There are long stretches, particularly in the second act, when Chicago sort of muddles along with no meaningful plot development or musical pizazz. The show's climax comes when Billy masterfully clears Roxy's name in court, after which he leaves the stage and there's a solid 10 minutes in which Roxy and co. just hum along with the orchestra and dance around aimlessly, ending the show on a decidedly anti-climactic note.
Inspired young producers of the world, this is your moment! You future Lin Manuel-Miranda's, why not re-work Chicago for 2019? The show is rife with themes that are just as ever-present today as they were in the 1920's, perhaps even more so; particularly our cultural obsession with fame and celebrity. Can you imagine a Chicago in which the newspapers were swapped out for Twitter and Instagram, or where Roxy was a more Kardashian-like figure? While the classic production will always be a hit, a trimmed-up, modernized Chicago would set Broadway on fire. It may sound crazy, but a hip-hop founding fathers musical probably sounded crazy in pitch meetings too.
While it sometimes feels a bit tired, the production of Chicago currently playing at the Auditorium Theatre delivers all the passion, lust, sex-appeal, and jaw-dropping choreography that fans have come to expect from the show. It's playing until this Sunday, February 10th. For tickets and more information, click here.