No matter how many times you hear the familiar “Razzle Dazzle” or see the iconic Bob Fosse “jazz hands,” you can never get enough of Chicago, now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center. There’s a reason why this 1920s jail-house musical is the #1 longest-running American musical in Broadway history. It’s delicious. It’s decadent. It’s dazzling. And it’s at DPAC May 12-14 for five rollicking, sexy, showstopping performances that you just can’t miss.
Throughout the four decades that this crowd-pleasing show has toured the world, almost every notable Broadway star has joined the cast, including Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking, Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth, Jerry Orbach, and Joel Grey. Celebrities have appeared often during the long run of the show, and some would surprise you (who would have thought Jerry Springer could be a cast member?).
The cast recording of the Broadway revival of the show won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Musical show, while the London revival won the 1998 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical. Though the show was nominated in many categories for Tony Awards in 1976, the only category in which it won was for Outstanding Lighting Design. This year’s tour takes the show across the United States celebrating 20 years of Razzle Dazzle.
The show opens with chorus member Shamicka Benn leading us into the 1920s courtroom/jail house, and the opening number: “All That Jazz.” She’s a long drink of water with commanding stage presence. Unfortunately, the choreography puts her in the hands of a partner who struggles with balancing her tall frame. But that partnership quickly pales when Terra C. MacLeod takes over as the vaudevillian-turned-murderer, Velma Kelly.
MacLeod’s commanding growl of a voice fills the stage as effectively as the chorus of dancers who are razor-sharp Fosse-ites, their arms and legs bent at awkward angles as only the master’s choreography demands. Though the spotlight tracks her every move, the audience’s eyes would gravitate toward her even without it.
Her foil, the wronged lover, Roxie Hart (played with over-the-top coquettishness by Dylis Croman), follows Velma’s entrance with an equally brilliant one, singing “Funny Honey.” Croman’s Roxie is 1920s sultry with an understated murmur of comedic genius that keeps the audience hanging on her every murmur. She doesn’t need to say a word; all she needs to do is to utter sounds, and the effect is hilarious.
There are more wronged wives in this musical than in any other on Broadway. All are portrayed with a spin on their characters that changes a bit with each new portrayal. This year’s actresses/dancers are simply amazing. Not only are they some of the best dancers and singers to take the roles, but they also appear to have embodied their characters in a way that brings a fresh take to those that we’ve learned to love.
Nicole Benoit’s Hunyak, the Hungarian girl in “Cell Block Tango,” is accused of cutting off her lover’s head, yet she is probably the only girl on the block who is innocent — yet hanged. Each of the women has her version of the facts: Liz (played by Lauren Gemelli with a lot of sass) killed her husband because he popped his gum; Annie (played by Pilar Millhollen, who’s been part of the Chicago cast since 1996) killed her husband with arsenic after discovering he was a polygamist; June (played with a hilarious Southern accent by Laura Oldham) murdered her husband with a carving knife, again, after finding out he was a cheater; which is the same reason why Mona (played by Evelyn Christina Tonn) killed hers; and Go-To-Hell Kitty (Benn) also killed her boyfriend for cheating. All of them have something in common with the two female leads: Velma and Roxie.
The dancing and singing in this show is what brings audiences back every time, and each of its stars (and they are all stars) has talent that reaches far beyond the DPAC stage. “Mama” Morton, the Cook County female jail’s scheming-and-conniving matron is played with both confidence and gravitas by veteran Chicago performer Roz Ryan. Her entrances and performances warranted enthusiastic audience response throughout the show, but her shining moment is actually a second-act duet with Velma called “Class.” The two tough women soften up, with harmonies that are both sweet and endearing, showing the sides of their characters that they don’t often reveal to others.
Women aren’t the only ones who shine in this tour of the award-winning show. Audience members enjoyed former NFL football player Eddie George, in his touring debut. He plays the slick lawyer, Billy Flynn, a fast-talking, smooth manipulator who has the women holding their breath for his next words. But Billy’s thirst for money is what keeps his engine running, not the women. George’s voice is good but not as strong as some of the others, and he moves just enough on stage to keep up with the chorus, but his dancing skills don’t match with others who have played this role.
Other characters also reach out to entertain. Roxy’s husband, Amos Hart (played with a lovable sympathy by Paul Vogt) is a dumb oaf guilty of one thing only: loving his wife. Mary Sunshine’s role as a gossip columnist requires an almost operatic voice and comedic timing, which C. Newcomer has in spades. And the cheating boyfriend, Fred Casely, is convincingly portrayed by Brent Heuser.
SECOND OPINION: May 8th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview with actress Terra C. MacLeod, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-Terra-C-MacLeod-of-CHICAGO-National-Tour-20170508; May 5th Raleigh, NC Triangle Explorer interview with actress Roz Ryan, conducted by John Huisman: https://triangleexplorer.com/2017/05/05/chicago-brings-all-that-jazz-to-dpac-may-12th-through-14th/; May 3rd Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/chicago-veteran-talks-learning-life-all-that-jazz/; May 2nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/article148155744.html; May 2nd video preview: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/article147950834.html; and May 2nd Durham, NC WTVD/ABC11 video interview with actor Eddie George, conducted by Amber Rupinta: http://abc11.com/entertainment/heisman-trophy-winner-eddie-george-starring-in-chicago-at-dpac/1944741/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 11th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/05/eddie-george-will-star-as-slick-defense-attorney-billy-flynn-chicago-may-12-14-at-dpac/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents CHICAGO, starring Eddie George as Billy Flynn, at 2 and 8 p.m. May 13, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 14 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $25 and up. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/844316.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPzr3lIh5uU.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, May 13th, performance.
Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville (1975 Broadway, 1979 West End, and 1996 Broadway revival musical): http://www.chicagothemusical.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/chicago-9942 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/chicagothemusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/ChicagoMusical (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_(musical) (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/chicagothemusical (YouTube).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.scribd.com/document/257316466/Chicago-Study-Guide (Scribd.).
Chicago (2002 film): https://www.miramax.com/movie/chicago/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299658/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/439832/Chicago/ (TCM Movie Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_(2002_film) (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, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.