Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: "Chicago" on Broadway (Ambassador Theater)

“Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts“…so begins the international award winning Broadway and West End musical, CHICAGO.

What can be said about Chicago - one of the finest (and possible my all time favorite musical) - that hasn't already been said? With subtle, sarcastic lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, and intricate choreography by the great Bob Fosse, this musical engages all the elements of fine musical drama, comedy, satire, ballet, and burlesque.

I had the pleasure of seeing Chicago on three other occasions - twice at London's West End - and once in San Francisco's Orpheum Theater. However, I have to say that the Broadway version I saw on December 18, 2016 tops them all (though I never saw the original Broadway version starring Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart and Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly). Nevertheless, Chicago is a must see musical, especially for an Ebb & Kander aficionado. 

The roles of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are extremely demanding. Performers playing these roles must be able to sing, dance, and act with fine precision. Luckily, both Amra-Faye Wright as Velma Kelly and Dilys Croman as Roxie Hart, have the right stuff to pull off these demanding roles.

Act I

In the mid-1920s in Chicago, Velma Kelly is a vaudevillian who murdered both her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together. She welcomes the audience to tonight's show ("All That Jazz"). Velma eventually is arrested for her crime. Meanwhile, we hear of chorus girl Roxie Hart's murder of her lover, nightclub regular Fred Casely.

Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and Amos cheerfully takes the blame. Roxie expresses her appreciation of her husband's thick skull ("Funny Honey"). However, when the police mention the deceased's name, Amos belatedly puts two and two together. The truth comes out, and Roxie is arrested. She is sent to the women's block in Cook County Jail, inhabited by Velma and other murderesses ("Cell Block Tango"). The block is presided over by the corrupt Matron "Mama" Morton, whose system of mutual aid ("When You're Good to Mama") perfectly suits her clientele. She has helped Velma become the media's top murder-of-the-week and is acting as a booking agent for Velma's big return to vaudeville.

Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but also her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Roxie tries to convince Amos to pay for Billy Flynn to be her lawyer ("A Tap Dance"). Eagerly awaited by his all-girl clientele, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fan dancers ("All I Care About is Love"). Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine ("A Little Bit of Good"). Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached for the Gun") to the press while Roxie mouths the words.

Roxie becomes the new toast of Chicago and she proclaims quite boastfully while planning for her future career in vaudeville ("Roxie"). As Roxie's fame grows, Velma's notoriety is left in the dust and in an "act of pure desperation", she tries to talk Roxie into recreating the sister act ("I Can't Do It Alone"), but Roxie turns her down, only to find her own headlines replaced by the latest sordid crime of passion ("Chicago After Midnight"). Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there's no one they can count on but themselves ("My Own Best Friend"), and the ever-resourceful Roxie decides that being pregnant in prison would put her back on the front page.

Act II

Velma again welcomes the audience with the line "Hello, Suckers," another reference to Texas Guinan, who commonly greeted her patrons with the same phrase. She informs the audience of Roxie's continual run of luck ("I Know a Girl") despite Roxie's obvious falsehoods ("Me and My Baby"). A little shy on the arithmetic, Amos proudly claims paternity, and still nobody notices him ("Mr. Cellophane"). Velma tries to show Billy all the tricks she's got planned for her trial ("When Velma Takes The Stand"). With her ego growing, Roxie has a heated argument with Billy, and fires him. She is brought back down to earth when she learns that a fellow inmate has been executed.

The trial date arrives, and Billy calms her, telling her if she makes a show of it, she'll be fine ("Razzle Dazzle"), but when he passes all Velma's ideas on to Roxie, she uses each one, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, to the dismay of Mama and Velma ("Class"). As promised, Billy gets Roxie her acquittal but, just as the verdict is announced, some even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away, and Roxie's fleeting celebrity life is over. Billy leaves, done with the case. Amos stays with her, glad for his wife, but she then confesses that there isn't really a baby, making Amos finally leave her. Left in the dust, Roxie pulls herself up and extols the joys of life ("Nowadays"). She teams up with Velma in a new act, in which they dance and perform ("Hot Honey Rag") until they are joined by the entire company ("Finale").

  • Velma Kelly - Amra-Faye Wright
  • Roxie Hart - Dilys Croman
  • Fred Casely - Brian O'Brien
  • Sergeant Fogarty - Peter Nelson
  • Amos Hart - Raymond Bokhour
  • Liz - Nicole Bridgewater
  • Annie - Gabrielle McClinton
  • June - Solange Sandy
  • Hunyak - Tonya Wathen
  • Mona - Angel Reda
  • Matron "Mama" Morton - Natasha Yvette Williams
  • Billy Flynn - Paul Alexander Nolan
  • Mary Sunshine - R. Lowe
  • Go-to-Hell Kitty - Chryssie Whitehead
  • Harry - Michael Scirrotto
  • Doctor - Jason Patrick Sands
  • Aaron - Denny Pascall
  • The Judge - Jason Patrick Sands
  • Bailiff - Barrett Martin
  • Martin Harrison - James T. Lane
  • Court Clerk - Barrett Martin
  • The Jury - Michael Scirrotto
Musical Numbers

Act I
  1. "All That Jazz" - Velma and Company 
  2. "Funny Honey" - Roxie 
  3. "Cell Block Tango" - Velma and the Girls 
  4. "When You're Good to Mama" - Matron "Mama" Morton 
  5. "Tap Dance" - Roxie, Amos, and the Boys 
  6. "All I Care About (is Love)" - Billy Flynn and the Girls 
  7. "A Little Bit of Good" - Mary Sunshine 
  8. "We Both Reached for the Gun" - Billie, Roxie, Mary Sunshine 
  9. "Roxie" - Roxie and the Boys 
  10. "I Can't Do it Alone" - Velma 
  11. "My Own Best Friend" - Roxie and Velma
Act II
  1. Entr'acte 
  2. "I Know a Girl" - Velma 
  3. "Me and My Baby" - Roxie and the Boys 
  4. "Mister Cellophane" - Amos Hart 
  5. "When Velma Takes the Stand" - Velma and the Boys 
  6. "Razzle Dazzle" - Billy and Company 
  7. "Class" - Velma and Matron "Mama" Morton 
  8. "Nowadays" - Roxie and Velma 
  9. "Hot Honey Rag" - Roxie and Velma 
  10. Finale - Company 

Chicago Report Card

  • One of the best musicals, EVER! Must see for anyone who likes Ebb & Kander (or Bob Fosse) 
  • Amra-Faye Wright plays a wonderful Velma Kelly, especially in "All That Jazz", "I Can't Do It Alone", "I Know a Girl", and "Class" 
  • Dilys Croman plays as a fantastic Roxie Hart, especially in "Roxie", "Me and My Baby", and "Nowadays" 
  • Raymond Bokhour acts as a very believable Amos, with an outstanding singing rendition of "Mister Cellophane" 
  • Natasha Williams almost steals the show with her singing of "When You're Good to Mama" and "Class". 
  • The costumes are mostly black, going for the burlesque theme 
  • The Ambassador Theater, where Chicago plays, looks a bit old and rundown. A show of this caliber deserves a newer, more sophisticated venue