It’s been quite some time since “Chicago” has actually been performed in Chicago (or thereabouts), but after a ten-year road in obtaining the show’s rights, Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook brings home the popular musical created in 1975 – and we are glad they did. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Webb and a book by both Webb and super choreographer Bob Fosse, the musical “Chicago” is based on a 1926 play of the same name. Inspired by actual criminals and crimes reported by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, the story revolves around the notion of the “celebrity criminal” while mocking the Chicago justice system that was in place in the 1920’s, an era where it was also widely suspected that an attractive women could not be convicted of a heinous crime, like say, the murder of her lover or husband.
In “Chicago” the story starts off with a “bang” when Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) shoots dead her lover on the side. She is quickly arrested and held in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial for murder. In an age when the press sensationalized homicides committed by women (good ol' media), the public quickly buys into the hype making an instant celebrity out of Roxie, and as starved for stardom as the former dancer has always been, she thrives on the new-found attention. In the “pen” Roxie meets several colorful characters, but none as tough as Velma Kelly (Alena Watters), a socialite divorcee and former cabaret singer who is currently the talk of Chicago for the high-profile murder she committed. Velma barely gives Roxie the time of day, instead giving her the cold shoulder. But when Roxie’s popularity soars as the “new story” and Velma’s diminishes, it’s Velma who wants to partner with Roxie for a song and dance nightclub act, this time receiving the cold shoulder from the new celebrity.
Roxie’s only way to avoid a sentence of death by hanging is to hire the flashy, fast-talking lawyer, Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) for five thousand dollars. Well beyond what the couple can afford, Roxie’s doting, naive and “invisible” husband Amos (Justin Brill) scrapes up what he can and promises Flynn to pay the rest when he can. From there, Flynn turns the case into a dog and pony show, equating the trial as a “three-ring circus”.
Watters stuns on several occasions as sassy Velma Kelly, winning the audience over almost immediately after a dazzling performance of the musical’s opening number “All That Jazz”. Possessing just the right dose of sexy attitude, Kelly impresses both vocally and in her dancing, her performance nothing short of riveting. As notable as Watters’ portrayal of Velma Kelly, Felthous also knocks the ball out of the park as Roxie Hart, pairing perfectly with her fellow caged dame and giving the show a rock ‘em sock ‘em one-two punch. Felthous convinces as one stricken by delusions of grandeur, confusing the popularity of her murder case as celebrity fame, putting forth an overall display of well-tuned comedic timing to go along with her own vocal prowess and dance ability. As fun to watch as the two are, Watters and Felthous really bring it home in their physically-charged routine “Nowadays”.
He’s charming, good-looking and possesses a silver tongue that can sway even the toughest juries. Well-cast, singer/songwriter Guy Lockard brightly shines as the smooth defense attorney, Billy Flynn, and gives the show yet another boost, particularly in his courtroom maneuvering melody “Razzle Dazzle”. Justin Brill also contributes nicely in his funny depiction of Amos Hart, a man who is considered so undistinguishable by others he aptly refers to himself as “Mister Cellophane” in one of the show’s most humorous numbers. E. Faye Butler’s strong interpretation of Matron Mama Morton is pivotal, Butler crushing it in the number “When You’re Good to Mama”, a jailhouse tutorial for newly imprisoned Roxie Hart. A talented ensemble also brings another strength to the production in their many alluring dance numbers, perhaps most markedly in “Cell Block Tango”, a sultry ode to the woman prisoner during the revolutionary Jazz age.
This new staging of “Chicago” is colorful and richer than ever thanks to an artistic creative team that includes Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Sully Ratke (Costume Design), Lee Fiskness (Lighting Design), Ray Nardelli (Sound Design), Cassy Schillo (Properties Design), Claire Moores (Wig Design) along with Production Stage Manager Larry Baker.
“Chicago” is an energy-driven musical that is sexy, fun and truly memorable. Filled with a slew outstanding performances, inventive choreography and a set list that is justly contagious, Drury Lane’s “Chicago” is a can’t miss thrill ride.
The Roaring Twenties are back...in high style.
“Chicago” is currently being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through June 18th. For tickets and/or more show information, click here.
Over 40 years ago, Pippin made its debut on Broadway and now it is back and in Chicago for the next few weeks. Pippin is the story of a young prince on his somewhat Faustian journey to find purpose in life, as told through the mysterious performance troupe lead by the Lead Player as our narrator. In this touring revival, the performance troupe is set in a circus which brings the magic of the big top to the show.
Overall, I found the show truly a spectacular, spectacular with the chaotic excitement on stage befitting a Baz Luhrmann film (of which I am also a fan!). The combination of acrobatics by Gypsy Snider, Fosse style choreography by Chet Walker and stunning costumes designed by Dominque Lemieux all in the circus tent set by Scott Pask creates a production that will be sure to wow everyone in the audience.
The original production was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and it was wonderful to still see his stylistic influences throughout this show. Appreciating the difficulty of Fosse choreography, I was impressed with the dancing in the show. It was taken to a whole new level with the choreographic updates and addition of high flying and jaw dropping acrobatics and stunts which you have to see to believe.
This show breaks down the 4th wall with the actors addressing the audience directly, and calling out the fact that they are in a show. Sasha Allen in the role of the Lead Player was fantastic and her powerful singing gave me chills more than once during the show. In the role of Pippin, Sam Lips was a star. He was a strong lead with a fantastic voice and personality that drew the audience in. My favorite actor of the show was hands down Adrienne Barbeau as Berthe, Pippin sassy grandmother. In the song “No Time as All” she will thrill and truly shock and surprise you – a surprise which I will not ruin for those who are heading out to see the show!
The show is funny and thrilling with plenty of good one-liners and jokes that get the audience laughing and (warning parents!) some scenes that get a pretty racy! At the same time, it has a much deeper and darker plot that speaks more to real life than your typical happy go lucky musical. In an all around well-executed show, the performance troupe takes us on a journey of seeking greatness and meaning in a world where there is no clear path. Through a series of compromises shrouded in doubt and confused all the more by the influence of the Leading Player we watch Pippin settle for ordinary over extraordinary in the end, seemingly happy with his ultimate decision.
I can highly recommend this show as a great breakaway from your traditional Broadway production that will thrill you, give you the chills, and also make you stop and reflect on the challenges of real life. It is playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater through August 9th. Get your tickets before the final curtain falls and the lights are all turned off on Pippin in Chicago!