Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicago, PlayhouseSquare

It’s a good thing for all of us that sex and jazz never go out of style. And that’s why Chicago, which is creeping up on its 40th anniversary, still manages to delight and titillate.

This version of the John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) musical, now at PlayhouseSquare, has plenty of splendid moments, although the overall effect is dimmed by a couple shortfalls.

The book by Ebb and original director/choreographer Bob Fosse revolves around the shooting by Roxie Hart of her lover. Hauled off to the hoosegow, Roxie meets up with an assortment of other murderous broads—all dressed in heels and a variety of black lingerie which, as you know, is de rigeur in Windy City prisons—in the spicy “Cell Block Tango.”

Roxie shares space in the big house with Velma Kelly, an acrobatic sister-act vaudeville performer who murdered her husband and sis when she caught them doing a double twisting flip mount on each other in her bed. As publicity hounds, Roxie and Velma put Paris and Lindsay to shame, and Roxie ups the ante for headline chasing when she claims to be pregnant.

When alone in the spotlight, Bianca Marroquin and Brenda Braxton are excellent as, respectively, Roxie and Velma. Marroquin has a fetching mix of sexuality and innocence, and Braxton is pretty much just pure lithe sensuality. But they oddly don’t light much of a spark as rivals, so we don’t feel them surging against each other as much as we should.

A key character is Billy Flynn, Roxie’s no-holds-barred lawyer who connives to get her acquitted, but Tom Wopat (of The Dukes of Hazzard fame) mails it in. Wopat is about a quart-and-a-half low on oil and grease, never locking onto this character’s slimeball core. Sure, we understand it’s a shame line readers like Wopat can’t pick up guest star slots on The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote any more, but that doesn’t mean he has to take it out on us.

Everything else in this production is totally up to snuff, including Carol Woods as “Mama” Morton (her rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama” is delicious) and Tom Riis Farrell as the hapless Amos, doting husband of firebrand Roxie. And the company delivers the still astounding Fosse choreographic moves with style and precision.

This hot and libidinous Chicago is a kick to watch, even though the lawyer should be sued for malpractice.


Through January 24 at the Palace Theatre,

PlayhouseSquare, 1615 Euclid Avenue,


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