By JOHN DeMERS
I never have understood why Kander and Ebb’s Chicago keeps touring while productions of their much better musical Cabaret seem few and far between. Amid all that garish Bob Fosse choreography in both shows, the latter at least gives us the history lesson of decadent 1930s Berlin amid the rise of the Nazis and the onrushing Holocaust.
Still, the discrepancy probably has most to do with the fact that Chicago’s movie version was more recent than Cabaret’s – though as with the stage show, Cabaret’s movie was better. I remember we were all supposed to be grateful that Hollywood would still make a musical at all. Last night, walking into Houston’s Hobby Center to catch the current rendition of this inferior product, I noted that, in the upcoming seasons of both Broadway Across America and Theater Under The Stars, all but Evita started out as a movie, a rock band or some other market-savvy pre-digested foodstuff. So go the Days of our Lives, I’m afraid.
For what it is – a recreation of Chicago in the 1920s through a cynical “post-O.J.” worldview – the touring production of Chicago is a decent night out. The stage, for the most part, is kept as dark as the doings depicted on it: variations on murderers going free on the basis of money, sex, power and media, as though that’s the norm in our criminal justice system. Which it’s not. Paige Davis, a semi-celeb remembered from a TV show called “Trading Spaces” that featured neither singing nor dancing, proves adept at both, plus (less surprisingly after all that TV) an engaging personality. She is better as Roxie Hart than Terra C. MacLeod as her equally lethal counterpart Velma Kelly.
Carol Woods pours a lot into her performance as Matron “Mama” Morton, singing “When You’re Good to Mama” and parts of other songs well, though perhaps with less innuendo and sass than audiences have come to expect. Women dominate Chicago from bitter start to raucous finish, but that doesn’t keep Brent Barrett from shining as sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn (“Razzle Dazzle”) or Todd Buonapane from satisfying as Velma’s no-luck husband Amos (“Mister Cellophane”). The performer billed only as C. Newcomer (real name?) is excellent as Mary Sunshine.
This being a Fosse musical, with choreography by Ann Reinking “in the style of Bob Fosse,” there is plenty of dazzling ensemble dancing. If anything, the guys outdance the girls, much as they did in any of Kander and Ebb’s shows created for Liza Minnelli. In her numbers with the male dancers, Davis even channels Liza a little bit, gazing proudly and possessively at the talented guys who are helping her look so good.
If you like Chicago, you’ll certainly like much about this production, especially once it picks up speed and spirit after intermission. If you like Cabaret, you’ll just have to keep waiting.