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Musical Theatre Review Print

With Its Stellar Cast and Onstage Band Playing Like a House Afire, Chicago Is Hot, Hot, Hot

December 2, 2008 - Raleigh, NC:

The original 1975 Broadway production of Chicago was a delightfully decadent "Musical Vaudeville," directed and choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse, earned eleven 1976 Tony Award® nominations, including one for Best Musical, but inexplicably won not a single Tony. But the 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago fared better; it won six 1997 Tony Awards, including the Tonys for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Walter Bobbie), and Best Choreography (Ann Reinking recreating the "style" of Bob Fosse).

The current national tour of Chicago, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and presented Dec. 2-7 by Broadway Series South, is a sizzling recreation of the 1996 revival, with director Scott Farris and choreographer Gary Chryst recreating the dazzling musical staging of Bobbie and Reinking, and scenic designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Ken Billington, and sound designer Scott Lehrer repeating the roles they played in the 1996 Broadway revival, which is still running, with 5,000 total performances and counting.

Combine dynamic musical staging; exceptional production values; an onstage orchestra, under the direction of Don York, that plays like a house afire; and a cast, headed by Tom Wopat, that sparkles like a super nova, and this terrific touring production creates its own heat wave in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Chicago is hot, hot, hot.

From the opening homage to Bob Fosse, with the spotlight softly caressing his trademark bowler hat on a solitary chair audience left, to the final high-octane production number, this wickedly funny musical mercilessly lampoons not only the legendarily corrupt criminal justice system in Prohibition-era Chicago, but also the legal hocus-pocus that transforms today’s murderers into phony celebrities and whips the print and broadcast news media into a feeding frenzy.

Headliner Tom Wopat is a crowd-pleasing charmer as silver-tongued solicitor Billy Flynn, who literally helps his clients get away with murder IF they can pony up his $5,000 fee; and Wopat even lingers in the outer lobby before and after the show and during intermission to sign souvenirs for his fans.

Terra C. MacLeod is pretty — very pretty — poison as former vaudevillian Velma Kelly, who broke up her sister act with bullets when she came home unexpectedly and found her sister and her husband in flagrante delicto; and Bianca Marroquin is a real scene-stealer as Billy Flynn's latest high-profile client, beautiful former nightclub chorine Roxie Hart, who popped her boyfriend Fred Casely (Brent Heuser) when the louse caused her volcanic temper to erupt by trying to walk out on her.

Ben Elledge milks his part as Roxie's hapless husband, auto mechanic Amos Hart, for a gallon of laughs; and Roz Ryan is a pistol as jailhouse fixer Matron "Mama" Morton, who always has her hand out and belts out Mama's big brassy numbers with brio. D. Micciche adds a hilarious cameo as infinitely gullible newspaper sobsister Mary Sunshine, who'd be reporting for Fox News if she were alive today; and Drew Nellessen, as The Jury, is a man of a dozen very funny personas whose gullibility rivals that of Mary Sunshine.

Exuberant cameos by Shamicka Benn as Go-to-Hell Kitty and Velma and the talented actresses playing Roxie's fellow inmates — Lindsay Roginski as Liz, Melanie Waldron as Annie, Andrea Mislan as June, Marla McReynolds as Mona, and especially Evelyn Cristina Tonn as Hunyak — also add snap to the suspender-popping, head-bobbing, shoulder-shrugging, cuff-shooting, and see-through-top- and fishnet-stockings-wearing proceedings. They help make the latest edition of Chicago to take up week-long residence in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium arguably the best of the bunch and simply not to be missed.