Live theatre is a delight. Even more so if you add in catchy songs, great choreography, humour, and a dash of sexiness. Chicago is all this and more.
A few years back the revival version of Chicago came to Montreal for a stint in French. This time it was back in English and still full of "all that jazz" and gave us the old "razzle dazzle".
The very first lines of Chicago are: "Ladies and gentleman, I present to you a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery. All those things we hold near and dear to our hearts." The tone has been set for a fun and bawdy night at the theatre.
The musical is set in Chicago in the 1930s, a town where murder seems to be an acceptable form of entertainment. It also seems like many get away with murder – especially if you are a woman. Roxie Hart has killed her lover in cold blood and fully expects to be found 'not guilty'. More than winning her freedom she also believes that the publicity she will gain from the arrest and trial will make her a star.
Roxie has always wanted to be a vaudeville star and quickly begins to understand after her arrest that if she tells a few white lies that she might finally realize her dream. She engages Billy Flynn (Brent Barrett), the hottest of the hotshot lawyers in Chicago, and puts her plan in motion.
While in prison Roxie (Bonnie Langford) meets Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod), the vaudeville star who shot her sister and husband after catching them in bed together. Velma is used to being the biggest fish in the female prison pond, but when Roxie comes along the spotlight grows dim on Velma. What ensues is a battle between the two divas over who will keep their name in the headlines and play in full halls after their inevitable release. It is a biting criticism of celebrity and the media.
Originally brought to the Broadway stage in 1976 and then revived in 1996, Chicago is one of the biggest Broadway musicals ever. Written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the same two who wrote "Cabaret", it is witty and sexy and sad. The choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse, while simple, is eye catching. The set (all black) is simple and that jazz atmosphere is fully realized by the fact that the band sits on stage for the entire show.
The real stars of the show are the music and Fosse's choreography. The music is sassy, sexy and full of dark humour and life. The standout numbers are the opening number "All That Jazz", "I Simply Cannot Do It Alone", "Roxie", "We Both Reached for the Gun", and "Cell Block Tango". The simple and precise movements of the scantily clad dancers are made even more stunning due to the all-black outfits they wear. Your eyes are just glued to them through the entire show. The great numbers come one after another barely giving you enough time to pause for a breath. The music and dance go a long way to creating the electric atmosphere this production relies on.
As for the cast, local girl Terra C. Macleod was a dominating Velma. Every time she and Roxie were on stage together she towered over the diminutive Langford. It leant to a different chemistry between the two female leads. To change things up a bit, MacLeod also took a more comical slant on her character by making the inflections in her voice and her body language occasionally humourous instead of just straight-forward ballsy. She is also technically a beautiful dancer to watch with her precise movements and long limbs.
It took me a while to adjust to the redheaded Langford as Roxie. The character had always been a blonde for me. Once I got over that small detail I really enjoyed her performance. With a decent voice and compact dancing movements, she was a delight. She, too, was excellent with the humourous side of the character.
The only weak link for me was Barrett as Billy Flynn. He was okay, but not a standout. There was not enough bravado and pizzazz added to the character for my liking.
Vocally, the two standouts were Carol Woods as Mama Morton and D. Micciche as Mary Sunshine. Woods really belted her songs out and Micciche had a beautiful falsetto.
When you see a musical of this calibre done by Broadway actors then you can almost picture yourself being on the great White Way. Musical theatre, when done well, is unsurpassable in my books and Montreal was lucky enough to see it done very well indeed.