Review: CHICAGO at Straz Center

On stage through February 26

By: Feb. 24, 2023
Review: CHICAGO at Straz Center
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Review: CHICAGO at Straz Center
"Cell Block Tango" photo by Jeremy Daniel

After three years of missing live theatre, I finally ventured to the Straz Center to introduce my sixteen-year-old niece to the razzle-dazzle of the multi-Tony-award-winning musical, "Chicago," the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history.

The band in the large orchestra pit was the only set piece on stage, and the orchestra director occasionally broke the fourth wall to interact with the performers. Only black chairs lined up on either side of the orchestra area and, eventually, a tall foreboding ladder. No elaborate costume changes took away from what the audience was here to see - flawless song and dance.

The show, scored by composer John Kander, the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, and the lyrics by Fred, has longevity. In fact, this was the twenty-fifth-anniversary tour.

"Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery - all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts," the actress narrated and walked off the stage as the curtain rose to the "Overture" sounds and "All that Jazz" and thunderous applause.

Set in the roaring 20s in Chicago, the musical is about two aspiring showgirls, archrivals, cold-blooded murderers, and celebrity Cook County jailbirds. Velma Kelly (Logan Floyd) and Roxie Hart (Katie Frieden) manipulate the gullible press and courtroom to win their hearts. The goal is to be declared innocent and not hung.

Review: CHICAGO at Straz Center
Matron "Mama" Morton photo by Jeremy Daniel

In Chicago, with the help of a larger-than-life prison matron "Mama" Morton (Christina Wells), money is all you need to buy your freedom, even if you're guilty, especially when you have a smooth-talking, silver-tongued celebrity lawyer like Billy Flynn (Jeff Brooks). Billy claims all he cares about is love, but love comes with a five thousand dollar price tag for him to take on the case.

For Roxie, the truth can be controlled by pausing the brassiness and pretending to be vulnerable, using and manipulating Amos (Brian Kalinowski), a trusting woeful lapdog of a husband to pay her fees.

Review: CHICAGO at Straz Center
Velma Kelly photo by Jeremy Daniel

The two women eventually begrudgingly befriend one another and discover their front-page news celebrity only lasts until the next murderess story is splashed across the newspaper.

The incredible score features iconic standards that, if you know the show, you can't help but quietly sing along. My favorite performances of the night included the opening number "All that Jazz," with Velma seducing the audience, Mama's rich powerhouse number, "When You're Good to Mama," the prisoners' sexy "Cell Block Tango," Amos's heartbreaking "Mr. Cellophane," the brilliant ventriloquism of "We Both Reached for the Gun," and of course, the feathered courtroom showstopper "Razzle Dazzle."

Reporter Mary Sunshine (G.A. James) hit incredible high operatic notes in "A Little Bit of Good," The journalist's big surprise shocked the newbies and sent the knowing audience into gales of laughter.

The choreography, using only chairs, was superb - sleek, slick, and sensual.

In the end, brilliantly performed, Logan and Katie commanded the stage and were indeed the stars Velma and Roxie dreamed of becoming. Vocally impeccable, when you have talent as outstanding as this, minimalism is all you really need.


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