‘Chicago: The Musical’ at the National Theatre

There’s a reason they call it “Broadway’s Sure Thing.”

Chicago: The Musical has been consistently wowing audiences for four decades with its jazzy tunes, cynical humor and slow cooked sexuality. The current Broadway tour, playing at the National Theatre until Sunday, February 15th, is no less dazzling and entertaining than longtime fans of the show have come to expect. John Kander and Fred Ebb’s lyrics and score, and Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking’s legendary choreography, are given the true Broadway treatment right here on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The story of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treasury – all of those things we hold near and dear to our hearts” is expertly recreated by Director David Hyslop and Choreographer David Bushman. The minimal set is dominated by the orchestra (led by the hilariously understated Ralph Burns), which, in addition to playing splendidly, features as a real dramatic character within the “vaudeville” style of the show. Following spotlights make up the bulk of Ken Billington’s lighting design. Long beams that cut dramatically through a thick fog, the lighting perfectly recreates the atmosphere of a Prohibition speakeasy.

A great contrast is set between the two leading jazz babes, Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod) and Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin), two very guilty murderesses who ride their infamy all the way to the top of 1920s celebrity, with the help of their greasy lawyer, Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley). Ms. MacLeod, as Velma, is the very picture of old-school Broadway: no wonder, as she’s been performing the role since the world French premiere, and on Broadway. She brings a maturity to the role that stands in delightful contrast with Ms. Marroquin, who is a contemporary, almost self-conscious Roxie (“Look at me! I’m in Chicago!”). Their chemistry lights up the stage during numbers like “I Am My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays.”

John O’Hurley, best known for his longtime role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, is a magnificent Billy Flynn, so charismatic you forget to hate him. The audience roared with approval after “We Both Reached For the Gun”, where Flynn literally operates Roxie as a puppet during a press conference. Also bringing crackle to the stage is Roz Ryan as Matron “Mama” Morton, who’s throaty, exuberant voice gave life to “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class”. Jacob Keith Watson brought a touch of sadness to his role as Amos Hart, Roxie’s long suffering cuckold of a husband. But even though his character is meek, his rendition of “Mister Cellophane” was powerful and moving. Finally, C. Newcomer is both hilarious and vocally astounding as Miss Mary Sunshine, an optimistic journalist who isn’t exactly what she appears…

The Broadway tour of Chicago is not all that different from Bob Fosse’s vision forty (!) years ago. And that’s a good thing. Because the slinky, jazzy, razzle dazzle of Kander and Ebb’s biggest show is a cultural institution, and it is a not-so-guilty pleasure whether it’s your first time or hundredth. So bring on the sequins and fishnet stockings, because with all that jazz, audiences can’t stop coming back.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly. and dancers. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Chicago: The Musical plays through Sunday, February 15, 2015 at the National Theatre – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the Box Office at  (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online.

LINK:
Meet the cast of Chicago.

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