Chicago, Kander & Ebb's beloved musical about murder, greed, corruption, and the old razzle-dazzle, is enjoying a new production at Drury Lane Theatre. It is, in fact, the first new production of Chicago in Chicago since 1983. The original Broadway production wasn't particularly successful, but a smash revival in 1996 has been on Broadway and touring nonstop since, tying the hands of local theaters.
For theatergoers familiar with the ubiquitous pared-down aesthetic of the beloved '90s revival, Drury Lane's Chicago is a brave new production. The plot is the same: Roxie Hart (Kelly Feltous), a Jazz Age chorine with a sad-sack husband (Justin Brill), murders her lover and is sent to the clink. There she meets the sultry Velma Kelly (Alena Watters), a former vaudeville star who is using her criminal notoriety to angle her way back to the top. Both women hire hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Guy Lockhad) to represent them, and a fierce rivalry is born.
Gone are the bare stage and the all-black costumes. The jazzy eight-piece band, led by Chris Sargent, is returned to the orchestra pit. The expansive Drury Lane stage is instead filled with Kevin Depinet's dazzling set, which suggests 1920s Chicago with its stately columns and ornate detailing. Detail-packed set pieces roll on and offstage, crowded by towering stacks of newspapers.
Newspapers are the driving force behind this reimagined Chicago. Director William Osetek calls on Chicago's rich history of sensational crime journalism, from Leopold & Loeb to John Wayne Gacy, to frame the musical's self-aware cynicism. The Master of Ceremonies (Michael Accardo) is a perfectly hard-boiled editor, watching the musical at all times from his office, suspended over the stage. When he's not directly commenting on the action, he's typing it up or fixing himself a drink. The male ensemble is a pack of hungry reporters and photographers, never far from the action, whether they're conducting interviews in "Cell Block Tango" or turning "Me and My Baby" into a puff piece.
The production is led by a pair of Broadway veterans: the kittenish Felthous has a wide-eyed yearning and a sweet voice that make her Roxie surprisingly sympathetic. Watters' deadpan delivery and flapper's physique make her a Velma Kelly for the ages. Her duet with Mama Morton (the very funny E. Faye Butler, channeling Ma Rainey) is the highlight of Act 2. Guy Lockard is debonair as Billy Flynn, with the smooth voice and big smile that the role demands. Justin Brill reads as slightly too young and handsome for Roxie's schlubby husband, Amos, but his take on Mr. Cellophane is stirring.
Jane Lanier's choreography diverges from the tried-and-true Fosse numbers to mixed results. Smaller numbers shine, especially when danced by the stellar female cast. But some of the larger dance sequences, notably "Razzle Dazzle," seem static.
Sully Ratke's rich costume design highlights the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1920s, which, when coupled with Claire Moore's wig and makeup design, make the cast resemble sketches by Edward Gorey. It's a great look.
It's exciting to see a fresh take on an old classic. Especially with material this strong, why not try something new? This production of Chicago kills .
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