The 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago, still going strong at more than 7,000 performances, is a record setter: It’s the longest-running revival and longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Only two British Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, have lasted longer, and Chicago is likely to topple the singing kitties from their second-place spot.
There are reasons, loads of them, for the longevity of this version of Chicago, a show that didn’t enjoy the same level of success when it first hit Broadway in 1975. All of the revival’s slick charm is on display in the production launching the 2013-2014 touring Broadway season at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this week.
A hybrid of fully produced theater and an elaborately staged concert, this Chicago moves through its songs (by John Kander and Fred Ebb) and its scenes (by Ebb and original director-choreographer Bob Fosse) in a minimalist dark space in front of an onstage bandstand. Working with not much more than simple chairs, a couple of swinging ladders, their own hot bodies and considerable vocal talent, the performers tell a story that still amuses and stings — all the more remarkable if you know that it’s based on a 1926 play by former Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins.
The show’s targets are the fleeting nature of celebrity, the media’s unquenchable thirst for the latest sensational story, the sleaziness of lawyers who would do anything for big bucks and morality-challenged beauties who literally get away with murder. Nothing dated about any of that.
Two of those gals, foxy Roxie Hart (Anne Horak) and brittle Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod), are hoping to parlay their infamy into solid, lucrative careers in vaudeville. Both are depending on silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley) to spare them a date with the hangman’s noose. But since Billy is forever on the lookout for clients with greater media appeal, the ultra-competitive Roxie and Velma fight (and lie) like squabbling mean girls to keep his attention.
The joys of Chicago flow from its artful, sardonic musical numbers, including A ll That Jazz, Cell Block Tango, All I Care About, Mister Cellophane, Razzle Dazzle and the hilariously crude Class. The challenging choreography, which Fosse dancer and muse Ann Reinking created in his style for the revival (here, it’s re-created by David Bushman), celebrates so many of the master’s signature touches: shoulders thrown back with dangling arms artfully swaying, hands dropped from the wrist with fingers splayed just so, prop bowler hats and drooping cigarettes. Permeating everything is that secret Fosse ingredient, smoldering sensuality.
The touring performers deliver the goods in this Chicago. MacLeod is the better dancer as the desperate Velma, Horak the better singer as the fame-famished yet beguiling Roxie, yet the two leads are a complementary pair. O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld and hosted Family Feud, is one of the better singers to play Billy, and though his rich baritone gets a workout, you wish some of his proven Dancing With the Stars skills could get a little more stage time. As the manipulative jail matron Mama Morton, powerhouse vocalist Carol Woods turns When You’re Good to Mama into a mightily entertaining argument for quid pro quo.
D. Micciche shines as sob-sister-with-a-secret Mary Sunshine, though sometimes the character’s words get lost in Mary’s intricately showy vocals. Todd Buonopane gets the seemingly thankless role of Roxie’s cheated-on hubby Amos, yet he’s so sadly, sweetly appealing that the audience cheers his final exit. As every member of the jury at Roxie’s trial, Ian Campayno has a blast hopping from chair to chair and character to character.
As for the provocatively dressed dancer-singer-actors who give Chicago its arresting moves and vocal richness, they’re terrific. And they probably have the lowest percentage of body fat of any Broadway touring company that will play South Florida this season.