Book by Fredd Ebb & Bob Fosse, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Director – Walter Bobbie
Supervising Music Director - Rob Fisher
Music Director – Andrew Bryan
Choreographer – Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse
Recreation of Original Production Choreography – David Bushman
Stage manager – Marian DeWitt
Costume Design – William Ivey Long
Scenic Design – John Lee Beatty
Lighting Design – Ken Billington
Sound Design – Scott Lehrer
Orchestrations - Ralph Burns
Dance Music Arrangements – Bill Schaeffer
Velma Kelly – Terra CMacleod
Roxie Hart – Dylis Croman
Fred Casey – Andrew Eckert
Sergeant Fogarty – Kyle DuPree
Amos Hart – Paul Vogt
Liz – Monica Woods
Annie – Arian Keddell
June – Lani Corson
Hunyak – Alexa Jane Lowis
Mona – Alida Michal
Matron “Mama" Morton – Jennifer Fouché
Billy Flynn - Eddie George
Little Mary Sunshine – D Ratell
Go-to-Hell-Kitty – Kate Wesler
Harry – Seth Danner
The Doctor- Taylor Collins
Aaron – Anthony LaGuardia
The Judge – Taylor Collins
Martin Harrison – Seth Danner
Court Clerk – Deon Ridely
The Jury – Matthew Winnegge
Reviewed Performance: 12/18/2018
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Before you read any further: order your tickets. This touring version is better than the New York Production which has been running for over 20 years. I know because I was there shortly after the revival premiered on Broadway. And though Anne Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, Joel Grey, and James Naughton were phenomenal, this touring production rivals and in some ways beats the original production.
Oddly enough this musical seems even more relevant now than ever. It premiered in 1975 with Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, and Barney Martin under the direction and choreography of Bob Fosse. It received for the most part positive reviews though some saw the musical as too cynical even though it was based on an original play from 1926 by Maurine Dallas Wilkins and was based on two notorious salacious murder cases involving women as the accused she covered as a reporter in Chicago in the early 1920’s. The original musical closed after 937 performances.
This musical is a generation ahead of its time. The idea of celebrity murders didn’t appeal much to the public back in the 1970s but by the mid 1990s -post O.J. Simpson and the Menedez Brothers- pop culture caught up with the musical. Curiously enough, the musical is even more relevant now. Besides our culture’s acceptance of celebrity for celebrity’s sake, the# MeToo movement highlights how society has oppressed women, and “Fake News” is constantly debated and in the head lines. This musical deals with these topics. It’s as if Fosse, Kander, and Ebb, were prescient of how American culture would evolve. Watching this musical again after all these years made me appreciate it even more than when I first encountered it more than two decades ago.
So why is this touring version better than the New York revival? To start: Most of this cast has performed in the New York version. The pedigree of talent is undisputable. This touring production is directed by Walter Bobbie who directed the 1996 Broadway version. Though the staging is identical, the pacing of the show is much tighter making every moment zing and enthrall. In fact, in this re-iteration every musical IS a show stopper. David Bushman who was in charge of recreating the stunning choreography of Ann Reinking has insured that there is crispness to the dancing that is simply jaw dropping and exceeds the revival. The precision Bushman brought out in the cast is unlike any other Broadway show I’ve ever seen in New York or on tour.
As far as the performers go: It would be hard to top Anne Reinking and while Dylis Croman’s Roxie doesn’t top Reinking’s performance, it equals it. Croman’s Roxie isn’t as goofy as Reinking’s. She plays Roxie with a harder and more malevolent edge, and it works. A different performer will bring out a different trait of a character at times, and Croman after being involved in this musical for a decade now imbues her character with a depth that surprised me. She is glorious.
I can say the same thing with Terra C. Macleod who plays Velma. The shadow of Bebe Neuwirth was present in my mind when she first hit the stage but she obliterated it. Her take on the character is more wounded while still retaining her hard edge. Again, it’s a different take on the same character but just as effective. Stunning.
Andrew W Eckert as Fred Casey was sexy and hateful yet so charming that you actually felt sorry for him when he is murdered. He is a sensational performer and even though his role is small the impact he makes reverberates throughout the show.
Amos Hart is played by Paul Vogt. This casting surprised me because after seeing Joel Grey play the role I could only imagine a diminutive man portraying Amos. Vogt imbues Amos with an unexpected energy yet somehow the fact that he is always being ignored ads an irony to the character and Vogt plays upon this. “Mr. Cellophane” is the song he sings in which he expresses his frustration about being overlooked, and his added touch of anger to it brought out a new dimension to the song and to his character that I wasn’t expecting and it worked.
Chicago as a musical has been known for doing stunt casting in which a celebrity you wouldn’t think of being in a musical ends up performing in it. This is in part how the musical continues to sell tickets after 20 years. They know how to pique the curiosity of the public. In this touring production the “stunt” casting is that of Billy Flynn, the notoriously smarmy lawyer. Eddie George portrays this iconic role. The publicity for the tour makes it seem as though they took a famous foot ball player and popped him on stage. George who was in NFL is quite the revelation. He took possession of the stage and made it his. He is a very good singer! And while the role doesn’t require much dancing, the little he did, he did quite well! He’s also quite an actor! Upon reading the program in more detail, it is evident why he is so comfortable on stage. For starters, he’s already done this role on Broadway, and apparently he’s been doing quite a bit of theatre for years now. While there may be better singers or actors who do the role, what George has is that magnetic charisma that won’t quit so that when he hits the stage he dominates it. I loved his performance.
Jennifer Fouché as “Mama” Morton is…there are no words. She goes on stage and…I can’t even think of an accolade sufficient to praise upon her. She alone is worth the price of admission. I’ll leave it at that.
The rest of the cast that doubles up as the ensemble is equally phenomenal. Every single one of them gets a moment, and maximizes it. There is always someone who is weaker in a cast. Not in this production. I’ve never seen a cast in which I could say everyone was perfect for their roles but in this production they are. Most of them have also performed in the Broadway version. Every single member was a true triple threat: they danced beautifully, had phenomenal voices, and were tremendous actors. This is yet another reason why this production is worth attending.
On the technical side the show was nearly flawless. Because this show is presented as if it were a concert version with Andrew Bryan masterfully conducting the fabulous orchestra on stage, the staging requirements aren’t as elaborate as in other shows. Everyone is dressed in black and the costumes are just as sexy and timeless as they were in 1996. There are subtle costume changes throughout the show but they are minimal and serve to enhance the musical and dance numbers. The set is simply a large square box in which the orchestra performs. A few chairs are bought out every now and then. Everything is for the most part painted in black. This allows for the dance sequences and the performers to stand out. The lighting is kept to a minimum, but when it does kick in with special effects such as the tinge of red upon the execution of one of the prisoners or the shafts of down light for the Cell Block Tango if creates a the exact mood needed for the audience. The lighting is masterful in its minimalism. This said, one of the spot operators the night of the performance was having a difficult time following the performers and at times would behead the character keeping the torso in light and the head in pitch black. I’m sure this problem will be fixed.
Chicago as a musical has stood the test of time. This touring production is the one not to miss. As a critic I seldom ever see a “perfect show”. Go and witness perfection.
AT & T Performing Arts Centers Broadway Series at the Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Now through December 23, 2018
Performances are Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 1:30 and 7 PM. Tickets $25 - $104. For information and tickets visit www.attpac.org or call 214.880.0202.