Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre is having its hottest season ever. Indeed, if you shovel out of your snow and ice fast enough, you will find its current offering of Chicago making things even hotter around North Eutaw Street.
In this Tony-winning revival of the 1975 Broadway marvel, the spirit of the late Bob Fosse is evoked with pizzazz, affection and an endless supply of sparkle. Fosse himself is only directly credited in the program with the choreography of one number, “Hot Honey Rag.” But his trademark hip thrusts, thoroughbred poses and military precision is apparent in just about every step of the recreated direction by David Hyslop and the choreography of David Bushman.
Following on the heels of the Hippodrome’s best Annie ever, here we have the Anti-Annie. It’s not a show you watch with a tear in your eye or a lump in your throat. You watch it with a jaded smirk of cynicism. The only romance under the spotlight is a brand of self-love desperate for notoriety and attention — ethics and morality be damned.
One barbed song by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) follows another, leaving you frothing up the air with hearty applause while inwardly you mutter “Amen, brother” with a shudder of disgust.
When a couple of vulgar cellblock observers sit down together to ponder in song “Whatever Happened to Class,” they’re here to tell us we’re too late to fix things.
Events follow the 1920s-era murder of a dance hall gigolo by a jilted cheating wife named Roxie Hart. For a sizable fee, death row honcho “Mama” Morton hooks Roxie up with a celebrity mouthpiece who builds her into the latest media darling. His motto might as well be, “If she’s a hit, you must acquit.”
If anything, the play is more hard-nosed than the Oscar-wining film in its damning of the corrupt, Chicago-style legal system. In the “We Both Reached for the Gun” defense coaching number and the later “Razzle Dazzle” trial centerpiece, we watch the facts twisted and overwritten by emotion and distraction by the charismatic attorney, Billy Flynn.
In that regard, this touring show is very well served by the casting of former Seinfeld actor John O’Hurley as Flynn. With his elegant white hair, stylish formal wear and gameshow-host polish, O’Hurley seems to be channeling the beloved buffoonery of the late Leslie Nielsen. It endears us to a character we might otherwise not care to do time with.
On the other hand, you will cherish every minute with “Mama” Morton, because at the Hippodrome she is played by seasoned pro Roz Ryan. Ryan’s oversized voice and singing and comedy talents know no bounds.
It’s a good thing that Roxy and her rival media darling Velma Kelly are left behind bars most of the evening because they are a clear triple-threat to the community.
The terrific Terra C. McLeod gives Velma enough juice to fend off a small army of arresting officers. Beginning with the broadside volley of “All That Jazz” and right up through the knock-’em-dead finale, McLeod will make you feel a little sorry for any actress who has to follow her in the role.
Bianca Marroquin is cut more from the femmes fatale mold, deceptively kittenish and devious, like the entire cast of Cats rolled up in one lacy package from Victoria’s Secret. She definitely lives up to the headline “Roxy rocks Chicago!” in the showstopping number “Roxie,” a singing-dancing ode to moxie in which she woos and wins the entire onstage orchestra.
Supporting players count for a lot in this show, especially D. Ratell as gossip columnist Mary Sunshine, Jacob Keith Watson as Roxie’s doormat husband Amos, and the entire Fosse-like dancing chorus of boys and girls.
Music Director Robert Billig proves as good a sport as a band leader when required to speak out. The costumes are prime Broadway caliber thanks to William Ivey Long, and Lighting Designer Ken Billington contributes to the spot-on polish and spectacle of the proceedings.
You may think you’ve been getting enough sleaze from your TV of late, but Chicago will remind you that some things are still best left to professionals. If you are in luck, a few performances remain as you read this. The word from this quarter is to grab a seat while you still can. It’ll be worth whatever it takes to get it.
Running Time: 2 and a half hours, with one intermission.
Chicago plays through March 8, 2015 at the Hippodrome Theatre at France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 N Eutaw St, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 982-ARTS or purchase them online.
Michael Poandl reviews Chicago at The National Theatre in DC.