CHICAGO THE MUSICAL still dazzles at Bass Concert Hall
If Chicago the Musical still airs on Broadway after December 8, 2031, it will beat out PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for Broadway’s longest-running musical. It does, however, hold the record for longest-running American musical. No wonder, because its themes of criminal celebrities, slimy lawyers and criminal justice workers, and false narratives, seem like a seemingly timeless theme. Celebrating 25 years, Logan Floyd and Katie Frieden lead an energetic and brilliant cast as Velma and Roxie, respectively, in the touring show taking place this weekend at Bass Concert Hall.
CHICAGO was originally written as a play by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins who adapted it from her own chronicles written in 1920s Chicago about two female murderers who came to public attention and were acquitted by all male juries. (Ginger Rogers starred in a film version of the play, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, and Richard Gere starred in the 2002 film adaptation of the musical.) Watkins refused to sell the rights to Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon after repeating offers, but after his death Watkins’ estate sold them to Fosse, Verdon, and producer Roger Fryer.
CHICAGO the Musical was then written by the inimitable musical duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb, with additional help from Bob Fosse on the book, and the show premiered in 1975. It ran until 1977 for 936 representations. Bob Fosse (Fosse, Fosse…I couldn’t help it, forgive me) put his iconic stamp on Chicago and his choreography continues to be a star of the productions we see today.
CHICAGO has quite the pedigree, with the original production starring Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly and Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart. Jerry Orbach originated the role of Billy Flynn. When Verdon had to step down for throat surgery, even Liza Minelli stepped in for a stint as Roxie. Anne Reinking eventually became Verdon’s replacement. Reinking then choreographed and played Roxie in the 1996 revival at a concert for the City Center Encores series in New York City. The concert version’s reception was so well received that it moved to Broadway, starring Bebe Neuwirth as Velma, Reinking as Roxie, Joel Gray as Amos, and James Naughton as Billy Flynn.
In our case, the production is as it was in the concert series that then moved to Broadway 25 years ago. It is a show of presentation, rather than representation, and requires the actors to quickly relate to the audience. It took a while in the case of the performance we attended on Tuesday night. I worried that we would get a show that would be delivered with skill and professionalism, but without the heart of a real presence. It’s easy to count on the capacity and popularity of the show itself in the case of a classic like this. However, the cast warmed up soon enough. And it was clear that with that audience, there were plenty of fans to support each number individually and the musical collectively.
It’s fair to expect the performers to bring us top-notch entertainment at this level, and after warming us up, they delivered. That’s a good thing, because I think a good chunk of us were there to see a familiar iteration of the show that we’ve seen before. Nevertheless, there were stars – or maybe I just had favorites like the rest of the audience. I tend to appreciate the work of character actors. GA James as the ever-optimistic Mary Sunshine is a shining light, and Brian Kalinowski is hardly cellophane. The rest of the cast delighted as well. It was enjoyable to bask in the two and a half hour runtime in a finely executed production delivered by a generally flawless cast. Real dance, real song. No Disney characters in sight, no weird interpretations of classic works to surpass our original understandings of – no, it was reassuring in this case to get exactly what we came for: The Razzle Dazzle of Chicago the Musical . At some point, while watching the show, I began to feel like some normality had returned to my life as a viewer and theater critic. I mean that as high praise. The arc of this timeless classic and the certainty that great artists get to do what they do best actually gave me a slightly warmer and safer feeling about life in the climate of the past few years. So get out there this weekend and experience the Razzle Dazzle yourself.
CHICAGO the musical
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Bass concert hall
2350 Robert Dedman Drive, Austin, TX 78712
Tickets available here
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