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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
Broadway
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Chicago, The Musical - a review of the six year anniversary performance

by Robert Abrams
October 18, 2002

Chicago, The Musical

October 18, 2002
Shubert Theatre
Review by Robert Abrams

Chicago, The Musical has been running for six years now. The cast has partially changed from the last time we reviewed the show about a month ago. Charlotte d'Amboise is still playing Roxie Hart. Caroline O'Connor is Velma Kelly. Billy Zane is Billy Flynn and Rob Bartlett is Amos Hart. The show has a slightly different feel to it now, mostly because the dynamic between the actors is ever so slightly rebalanced. Is the show still worth seeing? Absolutely.

What makes Broadway style (or more specifically Fosse style) dance what it is? When you see beyond the glitter and the bright lights, one key factor is stillness combined with precise isolations. Whether the cast of Chicago is isolating their hand or their hip, they are both precise and emphatic. The cast of Chicago are also masters of sudden phase transitions. They can go from sitting in chairs on the side of the stage to full out dance in a blink of an eye.

Speaking of sitting on chairs on the side of the stage, one of the benefits of seeing a show more than once is the opportunity to notice details. For instance, in the postscript to our previous review, I pointed out that Chicago's use of cast members framing the action was similar to Gina Gibney's recent work. Tonight I noticed that while the cast framing the action in Chicago is usually very energetic, during the Mr. Cellophane number, they are completely ignoring Amos Hart. You are not going to notice this, unless you are looking for it, and this is how it should be since the focus should be on Amos (Mr. Bartlett in this case). The point is that even though Chicago can seem to be a show built from superficial escapism, the show also has layers of poetry.

Chicago is a "meta' type of show. It acknowledges that it is an artificial world full of actors, while at the same time drawing you into the story and the characters, which lets the audience see a reality on offer on its own terms. The show does this in several ways: by having actors address the audience, by placing the stage within a gold picture frame, by presenting important scenes twice (rehearsal and presentation) allowing the audience to see how the show unfolds and not just what the show unfolds - although in a less heavy handed way than Brecht himself was often prone to. (To be perfectly honest, the show could almost get by with nothing but what, considering that the cast is, by and large, er, fit.) Chicago perhaps most boldly presents its meta-ness by directly incorporating the orchestra into the stage.

Chicago has been running for six years and 2,500 performances. Were they tired? No. I'm talking about the audience, by the way. The audience had enormous energy. The cast responded to this energy with a vibrant overall performance. They are clearly ready to roll for another 2,500 performances.

This being an anniversary performance, the producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, came on stage and gave an eloquent speech thanking everyone who makes the show possible, from the cast to the electricians to Ann Reinking (the choreographer) and everyone in between. This was followed by a rather impressive display of glittering confetti shot from two cannons placed in the side balconies.

I would be remiss as a critic if I did not offer some suggestions for improvement to the show. Since I can't think of any at the moment, I will offer a suggestion for a spin-off production. Chicago is full of interesting minor characters. The audience only gets a taste of their stories. Maybe the Weisslers could create a DVD with a series of short films focussed on the stories of the women in the Cell Block Tango. Just think, they could create a film about the life of Hunyak and whether she is really not guilty, shot entirely in Hungarian.

For more information on the show, go to www.chicagothemusical.com

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