Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chicago (The SOB Revisit) - Ambassador Theatre, New York, NY

Chicago (The SOB Revisit) - Ambassador Theatre, New York, NY

**** (out of ****)

If Bebe Neuwirth could return to Broadway's current longest-running revival, I decided I could, too. So over the past weekend, I made my way back to Chicago. What a trip!

I had no doubt that Neuwirth would make the journey worthwhile, but I truly expected the musical to show its age. Far from it. That the entire experience still rocks and excites is a huge credit to Walter Bobbie's exquisite direction, which received a very well-deserved Tony.

Chicago's beauty comes in its stripped-down focus on the timeless score by John Kander and Fred Ebb and the gorgeous Bob Fosse-style choreography reinvigorated by his one-time partner Anne Reinking.

It doesn't hurt that John Lee Beatty's ingeniously spare set design is also stripped down to the bare essentials. It sharpens the focus on the performances by the nimble, agile cast, including exceptional ensemble members. Of course, with William Ivey Long's sexy costume design, it's impossible to take your eyes off of them.

While the tuner has become infamous in recent years for practically writing the book on shameless stunt-casting, the only real novelty in the production today is that its original Velma Kelly is now portraying Roxie Hart through March 25. But there was never any doubt Neuwirth could pull it off and make it look so beautiful, funny and effortless. The question in my mind was whether the rest of the cast could keep up.

Because the current cast is now filled with solid pros -- like veteran Brenda Braxton as Velma Kelly, Rob Bartlett who's returned as Amos Hart, Roz Ryan as "Mama" Morton, R. Lowe as Mary Sunshine and Philip Casnoff as Billy Flynn -- audiences are guaranteed an excellent show by troupers who more than hold their own opposite Neuwirth. In fact, Bartlett was perhaps the biggest surprise with his tender, nuanced turn as the nebbish Amos; mining the absolute depths of this supposedly see-through character, he brought a tear to my eye.

Suffice to say that I wouldn't hesitate to strongly recommend a return visit to anyone who has seen Chicago before -- in fact, I was half-tempted to take in the next performance.

And for anyone who has only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to see the live stage show the way it was really meant to be performed. At least for now, you have the perfect opportunity. Go ahead, make the journey!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:

Revisiting Chicago (January 12, 2007)
Happy Birthday, Chicago! (November 14, 2006)
Usher Out (October 12, 2006)
Will Usher Razzle Dazzle 'em? (August 22, 2006)
We Had It Coming: Chicago's Starry 10th Anniversary (July 26, 2006)
Chicago to Usher in New Billy Flynn (July 14, 2006)

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At 16 January, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fight with lots of people about this show. I'm surprised that so many people hated it, while I was totally amazed by it. I had the pleasure of seeing it in PREVIEWS FOR FREE (!) before this revival opened, and La Neuwirth was positively liquid and gorgeous.

I agree with you on your encouragement to see the live show. As much as I loved the movie, there is that one little moment in the opener "All That Jazz" where Renee/Roxie is slammed against the wall by Mr. Casely, implying that she was somehow abused, thus justifying her murderous actions. No, ma'am. She (and Velma) are cold-blooded killers. Thankfully, the stage production does not sugar coat this theme, which makes the show all the more delicious.

There. End rant. : )

At 16 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Eric - Loved your "rant."

I concur 100%, but I'd also add that the stage version also includes several songs that simply didn't fit into Rob Marshall's movie dream motif.

That's not to say that his direction wasn't inspired - it was - but the stage version is such a departure from the film that the two simply can't be compared.

At 16 January, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think my first reaction, like a lot of people who are only occasional theatergoers, would be: I've seen the movie, I know the story and the songs. How different could it be?

But your description does make it sound like a pretty incredible and unique experience. And certainly, there's an immediacy, an excitement, to having people perform live, right in front of you, that you don't get from watching a movie.

It would be fun to see it on stage and be able to see for myself just how different it is from the movie, which I really enjoyed. And I believe I have an open slot in my schedule!

BTW, I think "gorgeous" is a great word to describe Bob Fosse-style choreography.

At 16 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, in preparing my two companions who had never before seen the show, I remarked, "Please keep in mind that this is nothing like the movie. Also, it's much sexier."

One of my companions said, "How could it be any sexier than the movie?" You should have seen the looks on their faces when the final curtain came down.

Certainly much of the reason has to do with the conception of the stage version, which eschews all dictates that it's obstensibly a story set in the 1920s. The only thing evocative of the 20s is the music.

But I believe it's primarily because of the sensual nature of the Fosse-style choreography. It's downright scintillating.

At 17 January, 2007, Blogger Isn't it rich...? said...

I'm glad to hear that Chicago still twinkles and that you enjoyed the return of the genius Ms. Neuwirth in the opposite role... what a treat; good for you for getting there a second time!

I grew up marveling and admiring John Lee Beatty's sets and designs at The Goodspeed Opera House. I've watched his career and have been lucky enough to witness many of his sets in person. He designs positively EVERYTHING now. What a career he has!!!

At 17 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

IIR - The best part of John Lee Beatty's set design in Chicago is that it's so understated.

While I thought his designs were wildly all over the board in The Apple Tree, I can't say enough good things about his inventive designs for Rabbit Hole or Doubt.

At 18 January, 2007, Blogger Isn't it rich...? said...

He designs EVERYTHING!!! And what he hasn't time for, Eugene Lee and his bow tie share their brilliance with us! (I wish I had time to see Doubt while it's here in Chicago; looks unlikely however.)

At 18 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

IIR, If you haven't ever seen Doubt, you really owe it to yourself to see the remarkable Cherry Jones in her amazing turn. The play itself is so well written, too.

At 18 January, 2007, Blogger Erica said...

I've got to get back and see it again - with Neuwirth. It certainly is one of my favorite shows (I've seen it twice on Broadway) It is such a powerful musical.

The movie was wonderful, but so very different then the show. I describe it as less gritty, less sexy. I was very sad that my favorite number from the show "Class", was omitted from the movie.

Grease is another show that is very different from the movie. I won't tell you how many people told me after the show that they like it, but it wasn't what they were expecting.

At 19 January, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


I'm with you - I was sad that songs like "Class" and "My Own Best Friend" were completely left out of the film. Fortunately for those who purchased the DVD of the film, they can still experience a wonderful rendition of "Class" via the deleted scenes with Catherine Zeta Jones and Queen Latifah.

As for Grease, the new stage version will likely be closer to the film as all the hit songs never previously heard in the original will now be included. Too bad if you ask me.


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