Chicago at the Ordway

The Ensemble in Chicago. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

The dominant creative force in Chicago (at the Ordway, through Aug 12) has been dead for 25 years: Bob Fosse.  Fosse directed and choreographed the original 1975 production (and co-wrote the book with Fred Ebb).  The present touring show takes great pains to “recreat[e]” the original choreography and direction, “in the style of Bob Fosse.”

Thus Chicago becomes the Bob Fosse Show, and how can anyone complain?  His work, after 35 plus years, remains palpable.  The brilliant opening number, “All That Jazz” (arguably Fosse’s signature piece) contains all the Fossean elements: the dancers moving slowly, bent over, then suddenly assuming nasty new poses, jutting out their hips, fingers flaring.  Simultaneously youthful and jaded, sweaty and laid-back, sinuous, sensuous, sexy.  The costumes (by William Ivey Long) are also Fosse-esque: black, with supertight pants for the men, revealing mesh stockings and short dresses for the women, oversized bowlers, muscular bare midriffs all around.  It’s appropriate that Chicago is being produced in August; the show carries a hot and heady summertime charge.

But: does the choreography, however brilliant and influential, sustain for two hours?

You tell me: that the show is marvelously executed, filled with hardbody eye candy, is not to be doubted.  The Kander and Ebb musical material, though it may lack the intensity of Cabaret, works extremely well.  The story (based on a 1927 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins) has great potential: Roxie Hart has impulsively shot her lover in the head.  She hires the oleaginous attorney Billy Flynn and discovers, to her delight, that she’s become the celebrity-of-the-moment (indeed, Chicago is about the American cult of celebrity).  Roxie has a terrific rivalry with fellow murderess Velma Kelly.  She befriends the cheerfully corrupt prison matron, Mama Morton.

Performances soar.  John O’Hurley plays Flynn with oily, perfectly coiffed perfection, hand in pocket, singing with a smooth and sly basso voice.  Tracy Shayne grabs and keeps the stage as Roxie, singing and dancing beautifully, playing Roxie’s hysterical fame hunt brilliantly.  As good is Terra C. MacLeod as Velma; she steals, imo, every scene she’s in.  “When Velma Takes The Stand” is gorgeous.  Roz Ryan plays Mama Morton with larger-than-life bluster.  As Amos, Ron Orbach does excellent work I loved “Mister Cellophane.”  R. Lowe does a surprisingly excellent turn as Mary Sunshine.  Everyone is terrific.

Still, for me, I must say I eventually tired of watching muscular dancers execute outstanding dances; I wanted story.  Roxie’s cartoonish trial, with the bored one-man jury, over-the-top hysteria, the chorus waving cheerleader pom-poms, rubbed my playgoing companion and I the wrong way.  The unrestrained camp caused the ending (which I will refrain from revealing) to fall a tad flat.

But that’s just serious-minded me.  You may disagree.  Undoubtedly Chicago is American music theater at its best, and the still-vibrant work of Bob Fosse thrills.

For more info about John Olive, please log on to his (updated) website.

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