The musical Chicago ran in Atlanta at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre from October 4th to the 7th. I attended the opening performance. Many others had the same idea, because the house was nearly filled to capacity. Smart people!
If I had seen this show when it was first premiered, I would have been singing the praises of the innovative choreography and staging. Now, at times, it felt like a museum piece. That may be because the ideas that made it unique have been “borrowed” many times over in the intervening years.
Chicago is a dance lover’s musical. For those of you who have never seen it, Chicago is the story of two aspiring showgirls who are in Cook County Jail under suspicion of murder in Prohibition-era Windy City, told through a series of vaudeville-style vignettes. The orchestra was onstage, serving as a crucial part of the action. Typical of Roaring Twenties Chicago, the characters are self-promoting and corrupt, but many of them have an endearing side as well. And they can dance. And sing. Yes, they can!
The original show was a musical version of a 1926 play, with choreography by Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking, opening on Broadway in 1975. Choreographed in Fosse’s unmistakable movement style, the dance is witty, provocative, and clever. The dancers made the movement extremely clear–Fosse and Reinking’s intent was very apparent to the audience in each segment. They danced with abundant energy and personality. There were many references to other productions of the time, such as the Ziegfeld-style feather fans that followed Mitt Romney look-alike Billy Flynn (played by Tony Yazbeck) in several scenes.
The two leading ladies, Terra C. MacLeod (Velma Kelly) and Tracy Shayne (Roxie Hart) did a superb job of matching their dancing and singing styles to their characters’ personalities, still standing out individually when they danced at the same time.
The highlight of the show was Matron “Mama” Morton, played by Kecia Lewis-Evans. She had a presence that was beyond powerful, with the ability to switch between personas depending on the character exchanges, a voice bigger than the theatre, and range to match. She even danced a little, while belting out that amazing sound. She captivated me. I wouldn’t call what she did “acting;” it was so integral to her presentation that I never saw her as creating a character. She just was, and she reeled me right in.
The chorus women characters was more defined than the men’s characters. All the characters in the show seemed to be focused on one thing: being noticed. I suppose that is a desire we all have; we all want to feel we have made a contribution and we hope that it will be big enough that we will be remembered. The intensity of their desire for visibility permeated the dance and made it bigger than life. The audience loved it and jumped to its collective feet at the end to give the cast a lengthy standing ovation.
This show was a funny, whimsical, satirical, poignant commentary on life. It felt like a look at a photograph of a time gone by (maybe I got that from the picture frame set that surrounded the stage). Yet it also felt like a photograph of a story that could happen today, with the addition of some great, upbeat music and dance numbers. I was glad I devoted my evening to it.