October 15 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 25  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT


Live-action Chicago is darker than its film counterpart

By Antonio Tan
Gazette Writer

TORONTO — Try singing “Come on, babe, why don’t we paint the town?” and I bet almost everyone would immediately recognize the tune “All That Jazz” from Chicago.

Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb should be proud. Although their Broadway musical was a flop in 1975, despite a two-year run, it’s now a bona fide hit both on stage and on film.

This musical satire on the American justice system opened at a time when America was still recovering from Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal — Americans weren’t up for a cynical night at the theatre.

But in 1996, just after the O.J. Simpson trial, Chicago’s cynicism seemed more appropriate. That’s when this award-winning Broadway revival (currently in Toronto for a limited engagement) achieved what the original production didn’t — ecstatic reviews and box office success.

As you probably already know, Chicago is the story of merry murderess Roxie Hart, a woman who uses the media to manipulate the jury verdict and gain fame. If you’re expecting a stage production in a gaudy, glamorous style like the film, you’ll be surprised. This production — the impetus for the film — has a strikingly darker, nastier tone.

As the black curtain rises to reveal a muscular male dancer gyrating in rhythm to a raunchy trumpet solo, you realize right away how tame the film version is. It’s one show stopping number after another in this production, with the musical numbers’ energy level building to a climax rather than tapering off as it does in the film. Revival director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking have remained faithful to the Bob Fosse style, whereas the film did away with whatever Fosse elements made Chicago great.

The success of this production lies in its stylish minimalist aspects: its simple, large black jury box set (in which the orchestra sits) and stark menacing lighting that accentuates the skimpy black costumes outfitted on the toned athletic dancers. And a Fosse musical isn’t a Fosse musical without choreography that creates a sexually-charged atmosphere. Ann Reinking achieves this with a quietly sensational flair, successfully recreating her mentor’s distinct style.

Bianca Marroquin, a veteran of the Broadway and Mexican productions, plays Roxie Hart. A cross between Gwen Verdon and Shirley Maclaine, Marroquin is a deliciously naughty Roxie, shining especially in her big numbers, “Roxie” and “Me and My Baby.”

Brenda Braxton makes a commanding Velma Kelly, performing a sensational “All That Jazz,” while Gregory Harrison is a perfectly sleazy Billy Flynn. Ray Bokhour is a mousy Amos Hart, Carol Woods a soulful Matron “Mama” Morton and R. Bean a campy Mary Sunshine.

 

 

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