Friday, May 21, 2010

REVIEW: Chicago

Review of the May 16 matinee performance. At the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, New York City. 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one intermission. Starring Ruthie Henshall, Terra C. MacLeod, Matthew Settle, Raymond Bokhour, Terri White and R. Lowe. Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Music by John Kander and Lyics by Fred Ebb.  Choreographed by Ann Reinking. Directed by Walter Bobbie. 

Chicago, now in its gazillionth year on Broadway and showing no signs of stopping, remains one of, if not the slickest, hottest and pristine productions playing today.  Seriously.  The choreography - every time I see it, the more appreciative I am of Ann Reinking's work "in the style of Fosse."  The direction -  Walter Bobbie's "less is so much more" approach simply does not get the credit it deserves.  And that edict is further aided by John Lee Beatty's spare set design, which leaves much to our own devious imaginations, William Ivey Long's stunningly simple, outrageously risque costumes, and Ken Billington's moody and entirely effective lighting.  And I would be remiss in my praise if I didn't recognize the three dance captains,  Gregory Butler, Gabriella Garcia and David Kent, who have kept the revolving door of stars and dancers in amazing shape.  I'm telling you, those dances look showroom new.

The show's current home
Over the years, the only real variable has been the casting, which has cast a very wide net, mostly with success, a few surprises and even fewer duds.  Hey, if it keeps a show of this quality going, I'm all for it.  And currently, with a few minor exceptions in the ensemble, this cast is top notch, through and through.  Yes, while the dancing itself remains pristine, a few (maybe 2 or 3) ensemble members look a little more than "Fosse bored" which the show calls for, but even they step it up when the dancing goes full tilt.  The current ensemble - including name bit parts and the six merry murderesses - is comprised of: Gregory Butler, Adam Zotovich, Nicole Bridgewater, Solange Sandy (one of those dancers you just can't help watching her every move, and her islands accent is mesmerizing), Donna Marie Asbury (an original cast member who is definitely NOT calling it in!  Talk about into it!), Nili Bassman (a very moving Hunyak), Jill Nicklaus, Melissa Rae Mahon, Shawn Emamjomeh (a just right jury), Jason Patrick Sands, Dan LoBuono, Greg Reuter and Michael Cusumano (a sweet face, voice and talented dancer).

Terra C. MacLeod and Company in "All That Jazz"
R. Lowe's Mary Sunshine hits all the right notes, literally and figuratively, and her big reveal still elicits surprised and satisfied gasps.  Her number, "A Little Bit of Good," is as good as I've heard it, and Lowe is a long time veteran of the show.  Still, this is the only character, who when speaking, cannot be heard or understood completely - it was uniformly so, so perhaps there was a sound issue?  Terri White, late of Finian's Rainbow, is actually justified in getting the thunderous applause she gets for "When You're Good to Mama."  No histrionics, just good old fashioned belt out a good number.  She is low key and spot on with her gestures and timing, making her Mama Morton one sassy bitch of a woman - a nice, strong woman for Roxie and Velma to play with and against.  That has not always been the case with this role, and it is due in large part to the fact hat Ms. White has amazing stage presence, even when she is sitting on the sidelines.

"Mr. Cellophane" himself, Raymond Bokhour
Raymond Bokhour's shlubby, vacant and a tinge whiny performance works immensely well.  He is just the kind of guy you look at and don't give a second thought to.  But when you need to look at him, namely in the trial scene and his nearly show-stopping rendition of "Mr. Cellophane," you can't help but stare.  What presence!  And that is particularly hard to balance with a character based on near invisibility.  It is actually disheartening when Roxie rejects him.

Matthew Settle and the girls of Chicago
Considering the caliber of the leading ladies in the current cast, I was almost taken aback that Matthew Settle's name is the only one on the marquee - especially given Henshall's stature as a musical theatre actress on both sides of the Atlantic.  But, I suppose, here he is the "name," co-star of TV's Gossip Girl that he is.  Well I have to admit, he pretty much earns his name on the marquee.  First and foremost, Settle has a sly, sexy matinee idol look that is immediately apparent, but the way he slowly but surely works that look as the show builds is a real treat.  To call his performance concise is an gross understatement.  He moves with a suavity and assuredness that is all cocky Billy Flynn swagger, and yet you barely register that he has moved.  The cocky, arrogant face rarely changes, save for a well-placed smirk, fake smile or dubiously raised eyebrow.  And, unlike many Billy Flynns I've seen, he really fits in with his girls during the big fan number, "All I Care About," and he more than holds his own during "We Both Reached for the Gun," including a very well sung, long held note (not all the Billlys I've seen even try it) at the end, which afforded him not only sustained applause from the audience, but a split second break in character from Ms. Henshall, who gave him a pat on the back, and the conductor (a witty Leslie Stifelman) tapping her baton in approval. In short, Mr. Settle is an asset to the production, and worth running to see, if you can, before he leaves June 13.  His less is more approach makes him all the more desirable.

Sans Bobbed wig, Terra C. MacLeod!
And finally, the two real stars of the show, marquee names or not, are Velma and Roxie.  And in the current pair you have two long time veterans of the show who make it seem as if the performance you are watching is their one and only time before an audience.  Terra C. MacLeod's performance owes a debt of gratitude to the great Chita Rivera, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Not only does she resemble the great Rivera with her bobbed wig, but she purrs and growls her way through the show just as one imagines Chita did decades ago.  But in no way am I implying that this a copy cat performance, no indeed.  MacLeod's Velma is tough as nails, takes crap from noone, and is as slick as oil on a snake.  Go up against her at your own peril.  Her brassy, sassy vocal style is particularly effective in "Class," "I Can't Do It Alone," and the exhilarating opener, "All That Jazz."  I have seen Velmas, however that are great at those songs, but much less so where Velma has to share the stage and harmonize.  Not Ms. MacLeod, the consummate team player, which she really makes work as you watch her face figure out how to work every moment to her advantage.  When she and Ms. Henshall get to break loose together in "Nowadays" and "My Own Best Friend," it is like hearing these songs for the very first time.

Ruthie Henshall

Roxie and her "boys" in "Roxie"
It was somewhat odd at first to see Ruthie Henshall as Roxie Hart, as I had previously seen her amazing Velma Kelly years ago.  And to be honest, for me, no one will ever be as good as her Roxie at the time, Sandy Duncan, but I have to say, too that Ms. Henshall might just be a very close second.  And there is that "thing" about Henshall that I can never really express in words.  Some call it star quality or magnetism, but both seem to not quite be enough (Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and a very few others have that "thing," too).  In short, Ruthie Henshall couldn't possibly be being paid what she is worth.  She is a showbizzy ball of fire that gives off heat and excitement that electrifies the room.  Every word, pause, tilt of the head is both calculated for maximum effect and as genuine and fresh as if it were the first time she thought of it.  Talk about your triple threats (the same goes for MacLeod)!  I can't say which she does best, act, sing or dance.  She is clearly a master of the Fosse technique, her tight lipped, lock jawed style of singing still manages an amazing belt, and it is as if each song were written for her, so well do they fit her voice.  And this Roxie walks the fine line of being just dumb enough to be endearing, lucky enough to make us envious, and shrewd enough to let us know that Mrs. Hart is one tough cookie. 
Ms. Henshall recently extended her stay through June 26th, and if you are a fan of the show, or have never seen it before, you'd be wise to catch her performance.  The same can be said for this entire main company and the cast majority of the ensemble.  It is absolutely amazing to me that the show is in as superior shape as it is, some 14 years into its run.  That's Chicago!
(Photos from various websites, including Ms. McLeod's website, Playbill Online, and several British tabloids.)
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