|Bianca Marrroquin plays the manipulative and murderous Roxie Hart. (paul kolnik)|
More than a decade after its triumphant revival, with umpteen national tours and international companies still going strong, "Chicago," that deliciously cynical musical, proves in its current stop at the Colonial Theatre that it's virtually incorruptible.
Given the other news coming out of Chicago this week, that's nothing short of a miracle.
Of course, corruption drips through every line of Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse's book; it's the grease that oils the plot, just as it supplies the essential decadence that permeates Ebb's casually biting lyrics and John Kander's slinky score. But it's a corruption so excessive and so stylized that it becomes an entertainment. Maybe crime doesn't pay, but it certainly does play.
And this iteration of the show, which opened Tuesday and runs only through the weekend, is an exceptionally playful one. Bianca Marrroquin, in particular, as the murderous and conniving Roxie Hart, infuses the role with an unusual degree of comic sparkle. Her Roxie is a manipulative vamp, sure, but she's a vamp who knows that her sexy act can look just a little ridiculous - and that self-awareness makes her all the sexier.
Marroquin, who played Roxie in a Spanish-language production in Mexico City and then crossed over to the Broadway show, is also a terrific dancer. Lithe, lively, and precise, she does her most effective acting when she's dancing. She sings with great character and expression, too; in fact, it's only in those moments when she's called on simply to speak, not sing or dance, that her characterization grows a little stiff, a little less relaxed. This Roxie needs to keep moving to stay alive.
Most of the time, though, she does just that. And she's matched by the cool, athletic presence of Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, Roxie's rival in crime. The way these two women can move - alone, together, or with the whole company - is a sheer, spine-tingling pleasure to watch. And the way they use dance to create character is even better.
Some credit for that, of course, goes to the revival's original choreographer, Ann Reinking, and, going even further back, to the man who created the choreography for the original "Chicago," Fosse himself. The first sight of those often-imitated, often-parodied outstretched hands might make you fear that the classic Fosse moves - not just the hands, but the angular arms, the thrusting hips, and, oh, those tilting fedoras - have calcified into cliche. But in no time the sheer energy and style of "All That Jazz" take over. It's still magic.
The choreography alone is not enough to carry a scene if the actors don't rise to it, and this brings us, unfortunately, to Tom Wopat. He's a charming actor with a pleasant voice, and he's got a clear idea of his character, the "razzle-dazzle" defense lawyer, Billy Flynn. But that idea is apparently of Flynn as a small-time, small-scale operator who's risen a little above his level - interesting enough, but just too miniature, too muted, to keep the balance between, say, Flynn and a pack of feather-flaunting showgirls.
Roz Ryan certainly doesn't have that problem. As Matron "Mama" Morton, she's big and brassy enough to run the whole show, not just her little women's prison. Her signature number, "When You're Good to Mama," may call for an even bigger voice than she displays, but her vivid gestures, her vocal nuance, and her whole-hearted willingness to wrap the audience around her little finger make it work just fine.
Ultimately, though, what makes "Chicago" work is not any one of the characters, or even any one of the songs. It's the whole palm-flashing, horn-wailing, flesh-baring style of the thing. If you've got that - and this "Chicago" does - you've got my kind of town.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com.