The Third National Tour of Chicago, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and presented Nov. 11-16 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of the Broadway Series South Encore Series, is still chock-full of that special Bob Fosse brand of snap, crackle, and pop that made this Roaring Twenties musical a smash hit during its original Broadway run (1975-77) and has made Chicago a hot, hot, hot ticket during its current award-winning revival (1996-present).
Created as a homage to legendary Broadway and Hollywood director/choreographer Bob Fosse, the 1996 City Stage Encores! Broadway revival of Chicago took home six 1997 Tony® Awards, including Best Musical Revival, Best Direction (Walter Bobbie), and Best Choreography (Ann Reinking) honors. Bobbie and Reinking and tour choreographer Gary Chryst mounted the show's current Third National Tour with style, wit, and the a heaping helping of the theatrical razzle-dazzle that made the original 1975-77 Broadway production such a high-voltage affair.
The present tour also features an impressive bandstand set by John Lee Beatty, flamboyant 1920s fashions (that truly are the cat's meow) by William Ivey Long, and steamy atmospheric lighting and special effects by Ken Billington. Conductor Vincent Fanuele and his red-hot onstage orchestra supplement this veritable feast for the eye with a feast for the ear, swinging hot and sweet on "All That Jazz," "Cell Block Tango," "We Both Reached for the Gun," etc.
Stage and screen star Gregory Harrison, who is best known for playing Dr. George Alonzo "Gonzo" Gates on the TV series "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-86), joins with Brenda Braxton and Bianca Marroquin, two other veterans of the cast of the current Broadway revival of Chicago, to create a terrific trio who can crack a joke, caress or belt a song lyric, or perform intricate dance steps with equal aplomb.
Gregory Harrison is a delight — an accomplished, singer, dancer, and comedian — as handsome, high-priced criminal defense attorney Billy Flynn. By converting his (guilty-as-sin) female clients into phony celebrities, and transforming the courtroom into stage for the practice of his own perverted brand of vaudeville, Flynn thoroughly corrupts the criminal justice system in the Windy City in the late 1920s, and literally helps his clients get away with murder!
Brenda Braxton is a veritable lioness in heat as former vaudevillian Velma Kelly, one-half of a struggling sister act, who caught her husband in flagrante delicto with her sister — and shot them both! Bianca Marroquin is hilarious as bored former chorine Roxie Hart, whose affair with furniture salesman Fred Casely (Kevin Neil McCready) ends abruptly when the rat tries to run out on her, and she plugs him. Then Roxie tells her poor, trusting husband, Amos (Ray Bokhour), that she shot a burglar and tries to get him to take the fall for her.
Kevin Neil McCready is highly amusing in his memorable cameo performance as a ladies' man who tries to kiss and run one time too many, but Ray Bokhour is a scream as Amos "Mr. Cellophane" Hart, Roxie's sad-sack husband whom his fickle wife and her shyster lawyer manipulate to a fare-thee-well.
But it is Carol Woods who steals the show with her robust rendition of "When You're Good to Mama" and her gritty performance as Matron "Mama" Morton, who rules the women's section of the Cook County Jail with an iron hand, but can be persuaded — for a fistful of dead presidents — to provide some very special favors for her wealthier inmates. R. Bean also is a real crowd favorite as sob sister supreme Mary Sunshine, who invariably looks at life through rose-colored glasses and believes from the top of her frizzy hair to the soles of her slippers that there is "A Little Bit of Good" in everyone, even the merry murderesses of the Cook County jail. (Besides Braxton, the other killer dillers in Mama Morton's hoosegow when the curtain rises include Nicole Bridgewater, Caitlin Carter, Jennifer Mackinesie Dunne, Marianne McCord, and Sharon Moore.)
Kudos are also due to Christine Brooks, for her fiery cameo as Go-to-Hell Kitty, and to Dante A. Sciarra, who keeps the audience in stitches as he impersonates each and every eccentric and wonderfully warped member of the jury that sits in the Roxie Hart case.
Whether you have never seen Chicago or you have seen all of the Triangle appearances of this delightfully devilish John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse musical, you will enjoy the high-octane performances and the quirky Bob Fosse-style production numbers of the Third National Tour. Don't miss it.
Broadway Series South presents Chicago Thursday-Friday, Nov. 13-14, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 15, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, No. 16, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25.50-$69. Ticketmaster: 919/834-4000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/844316. Group Sales: 919/231-4575 or http://www.priorityseating.net/. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2003-2004/encore.html#chicago. Chicago (1996 Revival): http://www.chicagothemusical.com/indexm.html. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=3748 (original production, 1975-77) and http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4804 (revival, 1996-present). Chicago (2002 Film): http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0299658/. Gregory Harrison: http://www.gregoryharrison.ws/ and http://www.gregoryharrisonsite.com/ and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002129/. "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-86): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078704/.