Tag: Bob Fosse
Book by Neil Simon
The new razzle dazzle as pertinent as ever
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|Written by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander
Directed by Walter Bobbie
at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
through June 12 | tickets: $30-$95 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
Now in its fifteenth year, this slimmed-down, near-concert version of Kander and Ebb’s cynical and enthralling musical features, as the smoothly lying lawyer Billy Flynn, John O’Hurley (J. Peterman in “Seinfeld” and a fixture on “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s a sardonic case of art-mutilates-life: As the press-wheedling lawyer in this sexy-strutting, Tony-winning revival of Chicago, O’Hurley exactly recalls Johnnie Cochran at his ingratiating worst. His deadpan asides and silky put-downs are passive aggression at its most insidious.
Chicago proves again how everything old is new again. For Maurine Watkins‘ crime-based comedy (an amoral companion to “The Front Page”, its equally cynical contemporary), the time is 1926, when a shyster flim-flams a credulous jury with "razzle dazzle." Following acquittal, Chicago murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly–former rivals turned reluctant partners–enjoy brief vaudeville glory at, among many venues, our old McVickers Theatre. Then "Chicago’s killer-dillers" sink into the obscurity that was interrupted by two unpunished slayings.
Forget the Jazz Age backdrop: this "drop dead" musical is as cunningly current as the Casey Anthony trial. The target for Kander and Ebb’s wicked 1975 musical, vibrantly restored in Walter Bobbie’s stream-lined staging, is phony celebrities, a prurient press that wallows in the vices it pretends to scorn, a bottom-feeding public who prefer killers to victims, and the cynical credo that showbiz sucks on somebody else’s sorrow.
Add to this deja vu our tabloid/talk-show penchant for forgiving confessional criminals who plead for pity over punishment–and Chicago seems as contemptuous as a former IMF honcho under condo arrest.
Told as vaudeville (with the 20 songs depicting "acts of desperation"), Chicago moves a lot faster than justice. Set inside gold frames (the inner one enclosing the first-rate band, the outer the in-your-face stage action), the hit-and-run scenes shake and shimmy. Stripped of sets (who needs a chandelier or helicopter with songs like these?), director Walter Bobbie focuses on the song-and-dance glories that Bob Fosse bequeathed to Ebb’s infectious score and that Anne Reinking lovingly reconstructs.
I treasure the memory of seeing Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera on March 1, 1978, in a touring production at the old Blackstone Theatre, as well as the late Michael Barto‘s 1994 Prologue Theatre revival. But this fiercely concentrated second-coming invents its own showbiz heaven. Supple as panthers, the silky-smooth, superbly-conditioned cast slink through "All That Jazz" till the theater risks meltdown. "Razzle Dazzle," spiced with a shower of silver sequins, a mirror globe and a descending bank of backlights, amounts to a Broadway orgasm.
At the vortex of Reinking’s carnivorous, bump-and-grind choreography is four-star bravura work. Terra C. MacLeod’s Velma is hilarious as half a dance team in her frenzied "I Can’t Do It Alone." Tracy Shayne remorselessly turns Roxie Hart into a lethal mix of Jean Harlow and Leona Helmsley. O’Hurley has contagious fun swaggering among simpering, feather-fanning chorines in "All I Care About," and big-bosomed Roz Ryan, as a Cook County dominatrix-matron, tears the soul from her ragtime anthem "When You’re Good To Mama." Ron Orbach, repeating the part that fits him like his ugly costumes, is suitably self-effacing as Roxie’s nebbish husband Amos and, memorably, T.W. Smith‘s toxic depiction of a sob-sister reporter is as deceptive as her crime stories.
Thanks to this sizzling production, Chicago’s summer just got a lot hotter.
All photos by Paul Kolnik
1997 Tony Awards
Rich Girl Gone Bad—Really, Really Bad
|Annoyance Theatre presents|
|Book/Lyrics by Aggie Hewitt
Music/Lyrics by Lisa McQueen
Directed by Irene Marquette
at Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through August 6 | tickets: $15 | more info
reviewed by Paige Listerud (and, after the break, Barry Eitel)
Just who is Lizzie Borden to the average person today—a reclaimed feminist icon from the 19th-century or a poor little rich girl gone really, really bad? Lisa McQueen (music and lyrics) and Aggie Hewitt (book and lyrics) get to have it both ways with their masterful musical comedy 40 Whacks, now playing Fridays at the Annoyance Theatre. Truth to tell, Lizzie (Ellen Stoneking) wins audience applause at the end of the show because – after a wild ride of mayhem and mistrial – she gets away with it all.
Irene Marquette directs a cunning comidic cast, who lay it all on the line about the good ol’, bad ol’ days surrounding this murder, America’s sordid Gilded Age. Even if Lizzie is no feminist heroine—largely because the glass ceiling she bumps into is about sharing part of her inheritance with her stepmother, Abby (Jennifer Estlin)—the show is, nevertheless, very conscious about the limitations women faced in the 1892, in and out of marriage. Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden (Noah Gregoropolous), gets thoroughly hosed in the script as the Borden family’s patriarchal douche bag. But Gregoropolous’s dry, deadpan pronouncements on women’s menstrual cycles and mental states make us wish he wasn’t off to see his maker so quickly.
What amazes most about this production is its restraint. Marquette has adhered to a little more class and period consciousness than one usually sees in Annoyance productions. Higher production values in scenic design and costuming, coupled with hints of ragtime in McQueen’s musical score, give the audience a stronger sense of old-timey mass murder–all the better with which to sail into the production’s more off-the-wall, anachronistic moments. After a steady diet of arsenic poisoning and a failed attempt at getting medical help, Abby starts to make Uncle John’s (Mike Maltz) bed on the second floor. We know that her mortal comeuppance at Lizzie’s hands is imminent. However, Abby still gets a glorious swansong before her demise, covering the Carpenters’ 1972 hit “I’ll say goodbye to love.”
That’s not the end to this show’s imaginative flights of fancy. The cast knows how to pour it on for Lizzie’s trial, which Lizzie gets to observe through nothing less than a court-ordered morphine haze. Maltz is charming as Uncle John Morse–what with his little crush on the family Irish maid Bridget (Chelsea Farmer)–but he really excels at delivering the trippy, whacked out opening remarks as the prosecuting attorney. Cristin McAlister, demurely spoiled and vindictive as Lizzie’s sister Emma, really gets to step out and shake it as Lizzie’s defense. Sherman Edwards, as the casual and celebrity conscious judge overseeing trial proceedings, seals the circus for what it is. “Will you be dignified and respectful of the court system?” he mildly asks of the audience before Lizzie arrives. His understated delivery already informs us we need not be.
What seals the deal for this show is its excellent music. There are times when the score strays into operetta territory and that’s when I begin to ask whether the producers have created something a little beyond Annoyance’s typical schlock comedy fare. 40 Whacks definitely delivers more sophistication, while keeping a light, crude touch to get across Lizzie’s overwhelming sense of entitlement. I, of course, am screaming for more and I hope Annoyance’s audiences will too.
* Review #2 after the fold *