When you’re the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, keeping things fresh becomes a challenge. How do you tell a story everybody knows, sing songs everyone has sung, and keep a captive audience? Not taking yourself too seriously certainly helps. The stars of Chicago, which opened last night at the Winspear Opera House, breathed new life and goofiness into a production which easily could’ve felt tired.
You’re likely familiar with the premise: It’s the Jazz Age in Chicago and women killers are the new big thing in the press circus. Our main murderess, Roxy Hart, played by 10-year Chicago veteran Dylis Croman, has a surprisingly odd sense of humor and ad lib skills to rival Cardi B. The wannabe starlet comes across as shrill and strange, if not a little charming. Her hero-turned-rival Velma Kelly is a vision of sultry desperation at the hands of Terra C. MacLeod, whose intensity and smoky, low voice is a nice counter to Roxy’s whine.
Jennifer Fouche steals the show as Mama Morton, having the most powerful pipes of the bunch, plus an acute sense of comedic timing. Former Dallas Cowboy and Tennessee Titan Eddie George plays a slightly sheepish Billy Flynn, but he’s likable nonetheless. Even the Chicago orchestra, whose golden bandstand functioned as the play’s backdrop, seemed to be having fun with its part.
But it’s the musical numbers with all the ladies of murder row – and the mysterious, scantily clad male dancers, who come out of nowhere – that make this musical worth seeing. They’re not just talking with their bodies, they’re cracking jokes.
Some of the humor is mature (there is some peculiar male nipple tweaking at one point), but none of it is lewd (the nipples were as shocking as it got). AT&T Performing Arts Center recommends the musical for ages 12 and up, which sounds about right to me. This would be really enjoyable for a young theater enthusiast who’s not familiar with the story, and it’s more tame than a PG-13 movie.
But, even if you’ve watched the 2002 film Chicago relentlessly and know the songs word-for-word, you’ll find some new appreciation for the iconic musical when you see the story unfold on stage. Even if it’s just for the high kicks and the well-timed jokes about the state of the justice system in America.
Chicago is at the Winspear Opera House through Sunday, December 23. Find tickets here.