Chicago is one of the shows that causes people to develop the annoying habit of humming or singing the tunes the next day. “He Had It Coming” has been on my lips since we left the theater, but not because the men in the play “had it coming” — rather it’s because the actresses who played the characters originally created by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb offered phenomenal performances in last night’s version at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
The female roles in Chicago are some of the meatiest (and sexiest) on-stage, and none of the actresses disappoint in this most recent iteration of the show, even though the audience received the disappointing news that headliner Christie Brinkley would not deliver the role of Roxie Hart during the DPAC performances, instead returning to New York to recoup from an unnamed illness. The disappointment the audience felt prior to the beginning of the play fizzled the moment Mexico-born Bianca Marroquin hit the stage.
Marroquin, currently playing the role of Roxie in Chicago on Broadway and a veteran of the role throughout the past 10 years, flew down to cover for Brinkley and brought New York’s bright lights with her. Her comedic timing, stellar voice, and comfort with the Ann Reinking/Bob Fosse choreography delighted audience-goers at the filled-to-capacity DPAC.
The 37-year-old performer was the youngest to play the showgirl killer and has portrayed Roxie against such luminaries as character actor George Hamilton, singer/actor Tom Wopat, and vocalist Usher, all of whom have at one time played snarky lawyer Billy Flynn. Without a doubt, she can hold her own with each. Petite and fiery, Marroquin employs the sassiness of a young Shirley MacLaine, coupled with the rubbery facial expressions and exquisite timing of Mary Tyler Moore.
Marroquin’s flirtatious Roxie is hardened by years in the chorus line, yet as sweet and sympathetic toward her bumbling and rather dense husband, Amos, as a teenager in love. Marroquin’s blank-faced mimicry is perfect and humorous during the ventriloquist scene, singing “We Both Reached for the Gun” with a certain modicum of shame about her lawyer, Billy Flynn’s (Tony Yazbeck), fabrication that both she and her lover, Fred Casely (Brent Hauser) wrestled over the weapon that ultimately killed him.
In addition, her dynamic singing and nimble dancing often appear effortless, allowing the audience to focus instead on her luminous face and eyes. Even when others are performing and Marroquin is in the background, she draws attention simply by lifting an eyebrow or crossing a leg.
Marroquin’s not the only female in this performance who substituted for a star at the last moment and delivered a knockout scene. Kecia Lewis-Evans, another Chicago veteran, strutted onstage as Mama Morton, the matron of the jail cell Roxie lands in, and truly knocked her solo –“When You’re Good to Mama” — clear down to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Her range digs down to growly bass notes, then soars to a trembling soprano, evicting the most rambunctious yells of the evening from the enthralled crowd. A Broadway performer for almost 30 years, Lewis-Evans has briefly acted on television but returned to the stage, her first love, and continues to reprise her role of Mama both on Broadway and on tour.
Not to be forgotten in this stellar group of female vocalists and dancers is another Chicago trouper, Amra-Faye Wright, whose version of the murdering showgirl Velma Kelly has graced stages in the U.S., Europe, and her home country of South Africa. The leggy and lithe Ms. Wright brings a sharp edge to her character, sarcastically rolling asides to the audience. Wright’s cap of short platinum hair and the slash of red lipstick on her mouth give Velma the appearance of someone who is beautiful yet street-wise. When she leads the other murderesses awaiting their trials in the aforementioned “He Had it Coming” and the opening number “All That Jazz,” she slams down the lyrics and literally takes no prisoners. Yet it’s clear that this Velma has a heart and realizes that her life as she knows it could be coming to an end when Roxie takes the spotlight and the media attention away from her.
Wright’s Velma may murder again, just to get the spotlight back, yet it’s clear that she has a wide streak of self-preservation that keeps her from Death Row. The most humorous and oddly tender moment in the show comes when she and Mama Morton (Lewis-Evans) share a duet during which they commiserate the lack of class in the world. Their friendship underscores the power of women in this musical.
Though the women definitely stole the show in this performance, the men offer some moments worth noting. Tony Yazbeck’s Billy Flynn is not as sexy as Usher’s or Taye Diggs’ version or as adept at tapping as Richard Gere’s portrayal in the movie version of the play, or as camp as George Hamilton’s; but he’s believable and his voice carries its own when competing with the women in the snappy “Razzle Dazzle” number.
As Amos Hart, Ron Orbach is appropriately bumbling and sympathetic, especially when singing his solo “Cellophane.” But the pairing of him with the much younger Roxie Hart seems awkward and almost contrived.
And what would Chicago be without the chorus and the secondary roles, such as the merry murderesses of Death Row and the reporters (especially Mary Sunshine, played hilariously by R. Lowe)? It is in the chorus that the Fosse mark is primarily seen: his trademark jazz hands, the Fosse neck roll, the shoulder shrugs, and the sexually suggestive cabaret style of the actors in all black costume.
The stage setting for this play is different from many others, with the orchestra rising behind the players like a specter of judges. They are so much a part of the comings and goings of the characters that they are treated like characters themselves. However, the rather large artifice makes for a very small space within which the players must act. At one point, two of the dancers almost collided, and in some cases you could sense that the actors/actresses were mentally gauging how much room they had to toss a leg into the air or to fall into a slow split.
Theatergoers often bemoan the lack of new and spectacular musicals, but there is a reason why some are long-running, and the current July 31-Aug. 5 run of Chicago in Durham proves that not only does the show still have the legs to go on, but it goes on even without the headline performer scheduled to play the lead.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 1st Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Chris Vitiello (who awarded the show 3.5 out of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2012/08/01/chicago-brings-the-razzle-dazzle-but-not-the-brinkley; Aug. 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer article: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/01/2236555/illness-forces-christie-brinkley.html and July 27th interview with Christie Brinkley, conducted by Betsy Church: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/07/26/2220250/christie-brinkley-strikes-a-new.html; Aug. 1st Raleigh, NC WRAL.com “Out & About” blog by Kathy Hanrahan: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/out_and_about/blogpost/11377001/; Aug. 1st Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/08/chicago-razzle-dazzles-at-dpac/; and Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/19587129/article-Christie-Brinkley-makes-her-parents-proud? (Note: You may have to register to read this article). (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the July 28th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/07/bianca-marroquin-replaces-an-ailing-christie-brinkley-as-roxie-hart-in-chicago-at-dpac/.)
Durham Performing Arts Center presents CHICAGO, starring Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2, 8 p.m. Aug. 3, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 4, and 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701. TICKETS: $25-$95 (including fees), except $11 Student Rush Tickets (limit 2) to the day of the performance to students with valid ID.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/844316.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services/broadway_group_pricing.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRQHBGDdqjM&feature=youtu.be&hd=1.
DIRECTIONS: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/getting_here. PARKING: http://www.dpacnc.com/plan_your_visit/parking_guide.
The Musical: http://www.chicagothemusical.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_musical (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The U.S. Tour: http://www.chicagothemusical.com/ustour.php (official web page).
The Film: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/439832/Chicago/ (TCM Movie Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_(2002_film) (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299658/ (Internet Movie Database).
Bianca Marroquin: https://www.facebook.com/biancamarroquin (Facebook) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bianca_Marroquin (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council.
This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review. To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Theater Review reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.