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Chicago (Broadway in Hollywood 2024)It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it, Chicago?

As preparation for doing this writing, I searched and searched online to see if I could find the show in my archive of reviews I posted since I started my blog back on lil’ ol’ Livejournal back in 2004. I couldn’t. So I went to the garage to check my file of programs (which I really need to update with the 10+ years of shows since I last filed programs). It has been a hot minute. The last time I saw this version of Chicago was the first production of this revival in Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson Theatre, May 1998, with Charlotte d’Amboise, Jasmine Guy, Brent Barrett in the leads. The rest of that season, if you care, included Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in da FunkRent, and An Enemy of the People (which I don’t think I saw). The time before that was seeing the original production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, part of the LACLO 41st Season. Back then, Los Angeles and the LACLO tended to get the original cast, not a touring cast, so we had the originals: Gwen Verdon, Jerry Orbach, and Chita Rivera (and dancing in the ensemble was Susan Stroman). In case you’re curious, the other shows that season were PippinPal Joey, and The Sound of Music (with Florence Henderson).

Chicago has long been one of my favorite shows—the music has the quality to uplift me. I constantly played the original cast album, especially loving the velvet tone of Jerry Ohrbach on “Razzle Dazzle”, as well as the other high energy numbers. A character modeled after Mr. Cellophane was my superhero when we did Superhero 2044 in the UCLA Computer Club. I still remember having to miniaturize weapons so no one would notice my character. When the revival album came out, I love it—especially Bebe Neuwirth’s timing and delivery. But I haven’t seen the show in a long time; with the tour still trudging along, Chicago is one title that has never been released to the regional producing circuits, and so there have been precious few productions since the 1996 revival other than the tour (at least in the US).

By now, I’m going to guess that most folks are familiar with the story of Chicago. The highly successful movie did that, even if folks never saw it on stage. People are familiar with the style of Chicago, which was Bob Fosse at his obsessive peak; the revival attempted to preserve that with choreography in the style of Bob Fosse being done by his second muse, Ann Reinking. What most people today aren’t familiar with is the original conceit of the show: Every number was to be a vaudeville style number, in the style of a different vaudeville performer. There’s a good analysis of that aspect of the show here; here’s a quote from that article to explain things:

Almost every song in the show is modeled on an actual vaudeville act or star. In “All That Jazz,” Velma is playing Texas Guinan, inviting the audience in to drink and have a good time. She is our host for the evening. “Funny Honey” starts out being an homage to torch song queen Helen Morgan’s song “Bill” from Show Boat, a song about an ordinary man, who’s nothing special, but she loves him anyway. Roxie even sits atop a piano, like Helen Morgan often did. But then Kander & Ebb turn “Bill” on its ear, as Amos finds out just who the murder victim is and rats Roxie out. As Roxie gets drunker and drunker, as Amos finally tells the cop how it really happened, the lyric changes its tone and it ends with her calling Amos “That scummy, crummy dummy hubby of mine.” A perfectly cynical Fosse moment. And if that isn’t cynical enough, we find out in the courtroom scene later that Roxie has cheated on her husband and murdered her lover on Valentine’s Day!

In the original, this homage was emphasized in the dress and the staging. But audiences at the time didn’t get it, and the show floundered against its competition, especially this new little show that swept the awards: A Chorus Line. The cast album survived; the show didn’t. In 1996, Encores at City Center revived the show with a minimalize production. No sets to speak of. The cast all in black, surrounding the orchestra (which was on-stage). It was a smash. It moved to Broadway and has been running ever since. 26 years. A tour started soon after, and iterations of that tour are still crossing the country. Back when I saw the revival, in 1998, I wasn’t writing up shows. If I had, I probably would have discussed how I enjoyed hearing the musical after all these years, but bemoaned that the original conceit was lost. That’s even worse today: do “the kids” of today even know who the vaudeville stars are?

Last week, writing about Million Dollar Quartet, I bemoaned how dated musicals about the 1950s really were, and how they didn’t speak to audiences of today; this is especially true for jukebox musicals. Yet Chicago was packed? With young folk, even. I guess that’s because greed and treachery never go out of style; sex and violence always sells. We have yet another politician attempting to win via razzle dazzle instead of substance and truth. The original came out in the post-Watergate era; we weren’t as jaded then. The revival opened in the era of the OJ trial; and the notion of trials that were circuses were in the news. America loves its sex and cynicism.

So how as the tour held up after all these years. I’ll note that this particular tour is a non-Equity tour, meaning younger actors and no real name actors. It’s also been on the road a long time, which can lead tours to get sloppy.

I’ll start with the good news: The Orchestra is flaming hot. You see that during the Entr’acte when they just wail. They are the real stars of this production (probably because they are union musicians). As for the performers, they are very strong vocally and with characterizations and dance.

Alas, for the bad news: The wear is showing. I noticed this first in the casting. Fosse was a perfectionist. He had a look, and he wouldn’t let it be destroyed for anything. The folks casting this tour? They may have picked for talent, but look was problematic. Kailin Brown, as Velma, had a visible tattoo between her breasts right at her cleavage; she also had a tattoo on her arm and stars down her back. This is the 1920s; women did not have tattoos then. Cover them with pancake for the show. Perhaps the kids these days who are in a tattoo world just didn’t notice; I found them a distraction that drew my attention away from the dance. J. Terrell, as Mary Sunshine, had a visible tooth missing in front. Strong vocally, but (again) distracting visually.  Lastly, Roxie is supposed to be a redhead—its in one of the song lyrics. The costumers missed that detail. I also found the choreography not quite as hot as it once was. Perhaps styles have changed. Perhaps it is because we’re in a show where the choreography has been a game of telephone: The Revival was Ann Reinking doing it in the style of Fosse; the tour has recreation of the original (revival) choreography by Gregory Butler.

Long running shows, and long running tours have this problem. I don’t fault the actors: they are trying hard, and doing their best. The problems here are all correctable: pancake makeup, a tooth cap, hair color. But what they demonstrate is complacency, living on a reputation. New audiences to a show may not notice. But there does come a time where a show may need to come off the road; where the Broadway production needs to close to let the show rest. Let a revival come after a few years to see what new it can uncover in the show. Let regional theatres get a crack to bring their own magic to the material. Gypsy is a fine example of this: It comes back after a few years with strong revivals. Hell, look at the current Sweeny Todd about to close on Broadway. Chicago, in particular, is great to keep touring because it is less expensive to tour: There aren’t a lot of costumes and sets; there isn’t a lot of projections and magic to recreate. Orchestra on stage; black leotards; cane chairs, and some ladders. It can fit in almost any theatre; few modifications and no real fly-space required.

If you haven’t seen Chicago on stage before, by all means go see this tour. It’s a great show, and the performers here give it their all. If you had the opportunity to see Chicago when it was fresh (either the original or the revival), then you’ll start to see the wear and the original magic may be lost a bit.

But I still love the music.

[As a PS: I’ll note my enjoyment was also lessened by the fellow sitting in front of me, who was tall and kept moving his head so I can to keep switching from side to side just to see the show. He also smelled. Some things are just out of your control.]

The last performances of this iteration of the Chicago tour at BiH/Pantages are today. I’m guessing they are sold out, but you can possibly get tickets through the website. From Los Angeles, the tour goes to such big cities as Conway AR, Tulsa OK, Dallas  TX, Oklahoma City  OK, and Easton PA. Clearly, this is not the first circuit for this tour cast.


Cast: Kailin Brown Velma Kelly; Katie Frieden Roxie Hart; Connor Sullivan Billy Flynn; Robert Quiles Amos Hart; Illeana “Illy” Kirven Matron “Mama” Morton; J. Terrell Mary Sunshine; Paul Amrani The Judge, Ensemble; Olivia Lacie Andrews Annie, Ensemble; Bentlei Benak Mona, Ensemble;  Jason Carroll The Bailiff / The Clerk, Ensemble; Ed Gotthelf Fred Casely, Ensemble ; Olivia Greco June, Ensemble; Liz Lester Go-To-Hell Kitty, Ensemble; Joe Meldrum Aaron, Ensemble; Adolfo Ortiz-Feder Harry / The Jury, Ensemble; Lauren Teyke Hunyak, Ensemble; Kodiak Thompson The Doctor / Harrison, Ensemble; Francisco Thurston Sergeant Fogarty, Ensemble; Cait Zuckerman Liz, Ensemble. Swings: Faith Jordan Candino, Austin Taylor Dunn Asst Dance Captain; Chelsea James Dance Captain. At our performance, Asher Van Meter had assumed the role of Harry / The Jury; Van Meter wasn’t even listed in the Playbill! Of course, this is a non-Equity show, so who do they complain to?

Music: Cameron Blake Kinnear Music Director, Conductor; Andy Chen Assoc Conductor; Sean Franz Reed 1 – Clarinet / Soprano Sax / Alto Sax / Piccolo; Brett McDonald Reed 2 – Clarinet / Soprano Sax / Tenor Sax / Piccolo; Ken Fisher Reed 3 – Bass Clarinet / Bari Sax / Tenor Sax / Soprano Sax / Clarinet; Aaron Smith and Javier Gonzalez Trumpet / Flugelhorn; Charlie Morillas Trombone; Alby Potts Piano ; Brian LaFontaine Banjo / Mandolin / Ukulele; Blake Cooper Acoustic Bass / Tuba; Joel Alpers Drums / Percussion; Eric Heinly Orchestra Contractor.

Original Creative and Production: Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse. Original production directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Original NY Revival directed by Walter Bobbie. Original NY Revival Choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse.

Tour Creative and Production: David Hyslop Re-creation of Original Production Direction; Gregory Butler Re-creation of Original Production Choreography; John Lee Beatty Scenic Design; William Ivey Long Costume Design; Ken Billington Lighting Design; Scott Lehrer Sound Design; Robert Billig Supervising Music Director; Cameron Blake Kinnear Music Director; Ralph Burns Orchestrations; Rob Fisher Vocal Arrangements; Bernie Ardia Wig & Hair Design; Justen M. Brosnan Makeup Designer; Peter Howard Dance Music Arrangements; David Thompson Script Adaptation; JP Meyer Music Coordinator; Andy Chen Assoc Conductor; ARC-Duncan Seward, CSA & Patrick Maravilla Casting; Anita Dioniak & Melissa A. Hazek Tour Marketing & Press; Camden Loeser Resident Director / Asst Choreographer; Marc Clemiewicz Resident Company Manager; Taneal Williams Tour Company Manager; The Booking Group Tour Booking; Lauryn Elizabeth Production Stage Manager; Bethany Sortman Production Supervisot; Elspeth Bustard Asst Stage Manager.

♦ ♦ ♦

Administrivia: I am not a professional critic. I’m a cybersecurity professional, a roadgeek who does a highway site and a podcast about California Highways, and someone who loves live performance. I buy all my own tickets, unless explicitly noted otherwise. I do these writeups to share my thoughts on shows with my friends and the community. I encourage you to go to your local theatres and support them (ideally, by purchasing full price tickets, if you can afford to do so). We currently subscribe or have memberships at: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson TheatreBroadway in Hollywood/Pantages TheatrePasadena PlayhouseGeffen Playhouse (Mini-Subscription); 5-Star Theatricals. We’re looking for the right intimate theatre to subscribe at — it hasn’t been the same since Rep East died (it’s now The Main, and although it does a lot of theatre, it doesn’t have seasons or a resident company), and post-COVID, most 99-seaters aren’t back to doing seasons (or seasons we like). I used to do more detailed writeups; here’s my current approach.

Upcoming ♦ Theatre / ♣ Music / ◊ Other Live Performance – Next 90ish Days (⊕ indicates ticketing is pending):

On the Theatrical Horizon:

Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica has announced their Mainstage 2024 Season, and it includes Bat Boy the Musical running Sept 28 through October 18. We saw Bat Boy back when CSUN did it in 2014; it is a wonderful musical about how a society treats outsiders. I also just learned about a theatre company in Fullerton, Maverick Theater. They are doing Evil Dead: The Musical , which is a hoot if you’ve never seen it (we’ve seen it twice). They also have some interesting other stuff on their season, and we might drive down for Santa Claus Vs The Martians in November.


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