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BWW Reviews: CHICAGO Rox Manila; Show Runs Until 12/21

(L-R) Colt Adam Weiss, Bianca Marroquin, and Jasond Thomas
captivate the audience in the vaudeville number "Me And My Baby."
Photo: Chriselle Fajardo

By Vince Vicentuan

Manila, Philippines--The much-anticipated Manila premiere of Broadway's longest-running American musical, CHICAGO, razzle-dazzled audiences with its hard-hitting numbers (All That Jazz, Cell Block Tango, Razzle Dazzle), which speak of passion, treachery, murder, and glossed-over celebrity, on opening night. Leading the pack of an all-American cast of Broadway veterans is Bianca Marroquin who rocked Solaire Resort and Casino's The Theatre with her multi-faceted portrayal of accused murderess Roxie Hart. The strong ensemble, while writhing, gyrating, and exploding to John Kander's music, provided the backdrop to Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse's dark satirical commentary of the 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago. When the audience rose to a standing ovation at the end of the show, it was palpable that even in these modern days, it is impossible to convict good looking murderesses.

Powerhouse Cast

Marroquin's Roxie Hart is a dynamo of emotional intricacies, all of which she deftly showcases number after number in a slow-but-sure build-up. Those familiar with the movie version, starring Renee Zellweger (Hart) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma Kelly), whose own share of celebrity egotism had producers scrambling to conjure billing tricks, may discover that the stage musical is actually Roxie's story, not Velma's. This point in storytelling well-defined, Marroquin, whose credits include an impressive string of Broadway and Mexican plays, navigates through the complexity of the part with the panache of a stage veteran. One time she's delicate and funny, the next moment she's tough, scheming, and downright tragic. Marroquin has such gift of nuance that even the way she flicks her fingers would elicit empathy from the audience. Her brightest moment shines in the highly introspective "Nowadays," where she explodes with so much tragedy that you could actually hear tears dropping in the theater.

Terra C. MacLeod's Velma Kelly may not be the main focal point of the story, but she holds her own against Marroquin and provides the perfect vehicle to help move the story. MacLeod sings and dances the part with gusto and aplomb with the audience swaying and twirling and laughing in their seats. MacLeod's performance is however hindered by the occasional unclear lines, which I suspect, is due to opening night adjustments. Otherwise, her performance would have remained spot-on.

(Clockwise from the top) Anne Otto, Robin Masella, Aurore Jolly, Jeff
McCarthy, Laura Oldham, Sherisse Springer, and Allison Blair
McDowell perform "All I Care About Is Love." (Photo: Chriselle Fajardo)

Jeff McCarthy as criminal lawyer Billy Flynn is as suave and scheming as he can be. He sings his part as an actor should, and like his castmate Roz Ryan who plays Matron "Mama" Morton, indulges the audience in a romp of wit and treachery. McCarthy's moment, "All I Care About is Love" is replete with a chorus of gorgeous gals in feathery fans, while Ryan's moment of glory in "When You're Good to Mama" reeks of subdued yet engaging sarcasm.

The biggest revelation of the night is Jacob Keith Watson, a Broadway newbie who gives an extra-dimension to an otherwise stock character, and one couldn't help but sympathize with him when he finally allows the audience to see through him in the aptly titled number "Mr. Cellophane." His is a portrayal of contradiction and piteousness that when he finally puts on those white pair of gloves, he actually gets away with his imaginary murder.

Providing relief to such dark story is C. Newcomer whose high-falsetto numbers were prelude to a much higher-falsetto revelation, which one must watch for, towards the end.

Vaudeville, Jazz, Ensemble, and Orchestra

Vaudeville is a theatrical genre that melds different entertainment forms. The employment of burlesque seems to be a wise choice for a myriad of murder cases and controversial characters put together by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, whose 1926 play of the same name provided the basis for the musical. On the other hand, the state of Chicago has played a significant role in the propagation of jazz in the U.S, throughout the 20th century, and jazz therefore seems to be the practical choice. The team behind the musical has created an impressive homogeneity by tapping into these genres. The ensemble lived out this intent in a dazzling frenzy that is purely Fosse. The success of the musical, whether you agree or not, lies in this consistency.

The device to make the orchestra (which is mostly Filipino musicians) a direct and active part of the whole act proves to be very effective. When conductor Robert Billig occasionally takes a swipe at a character, the audience bursts into an approving laughter. Overall, the orchestra does not overwhelm the singers and in such manner, amidst the predominantly black stage and costumes, helps tell the story in vivid clarity.

Terra C. MacLeod and Company open the show with its signature
musical number, "All That Jazz." (Photo: Chriselle Fajardo)

CHICAGO is Philippine Storyline

Make no mistake about it, the musical may have preyed on the criminal justice corruption and celebrity criminals of the American state, but its satirical message squeals of the present day tango between the headline-hungry media and high-profile criminals, the Philippines included, who constantly feed off each other to satiate their equally hungry audience. Prominent political figures accused of money laundering and mass murder may find their own stories in the "sob-sisters" who would use every opportunity at media mileage to concoct lies of laughable repute just to earn public sympathy and exonerate themselves.

CHICAGO plays The Theatre, Solaire Resort and Casino, until Sunday, December 21.

The show is produced in Manila by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises, and Concertus Manila.

For tickets, visit ticketworld.com.ph.

Vince Vicentuan is currently taking MA in Education major in Educational Administration at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a theater artist and had worked as the theater manager of Assumpta Theater-CCP of the East in Assumption Antipolo. He has written and directed his own musicals like Sulyap-Lahi, The Wonder Bookshop 1 and 2, and Whose Garden is This?, among others. He has over 12 years of experience as an English teacher and almost 20 years as theater actor. He has appeared in the Philippine productions of Oliver!, Chess the Musical, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, The Magic Staff, Dalagang Bukid, and Bakhita the Musical, among others.



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