Chicago: A Razzle Dazzle Show
In the 1920s "merry murderesses" were all the rage. Readers of Chicago dueling newspapers couldn't get enough of high-profile murder cases committed by women.
A half century later legends Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander turned Windy City mayhem into the musical Chicago, the longest-running revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, it's the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind only The Phantom of the Opera, having played over 8,300 performances.
Vero Beach's Riverside Theatre brings the story to life with a powerhouse presentation on the Stark Stage that runs through January 22. Under Richard Stafford's stellar direction, this production hits all of the themes. It's a robust tale of fame, fortune and acquittal that keeps a pair of conniving women killers from the gallows. It's an evening of all that jazz, one show-stopping song after another. Sensational costumes and set designs abound. Did I mention perhaps the most spectacular dancing you've ever seen?
Set amidst the razzle-dazzle decadence of the roaring “jazz hot” 1920s, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and nightclub dancer who guns down her on-the-side lover Fred Casely after he threatens to walk out on her. Roxie persuades her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap. But the truth eventually comes out and he recants his crime. Arrested and sent to prison to await trial, Roxie meets Velma Kelly, another murderer in the same cell block who vies with Roxy for celebrity status in the press. She also hires Kelly's silver-tongue criminal lawyer Billy Flynn to transform Roxie's gruesome crime into an avalanche of sensational headlines from a pack of feverish reporters.
Heather Parcells as Velma Kelly is a tall, voluptuous viper and cabaret performer who's awaiting trial for the murder of her philandering husband and twin sister. Reveling in her cultivated celebrity status as the "wronged woman," Velma becomes crazed when she finds herself upstaged by a seemingly innocent Roxie who aims to steal Velma's towering limelight.
Commanding the stage from her first long-legged step in “All That Jazz,” Velma never looks back. Her vocals in “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “When Velma Takes The Stand” along with her high-kicking role delivers a dynamic stage presence that wows the audience all evening long. Kaitlyn Davidson as Roxie Hart is a self absorbed and spoiled character who runs through a string of boyfriends that plays out in murder when she’s dumped. Songs like “Me and My Baby,” and “Roxie” are funny, and salacious, and showcase an extensive emotional range.
Kevin Pariseau shines as the slick cold hearted lawyer Flynn. With a beautiful tenor he croons numbers such as “All I Care About,” that ends up with Flynn smack in the middle of a clever Zeigfield Follies-like fan dance. In the flashy ventriloquism number, "We Both Reached for the Gun," Pariseau holds the final note for a half-minute drawing appreciative applause. Meghan Colleen Moroney plays the prison top-dog matron with wonderfully heavy-handed charm. The rest of the cast performs in roles ranging from the press and cops to the judge and lawbreakers.
Beyond the intoxicating music, the sardonic lyrics and storyline deliver an incisive commentary about social perspectives. There is plenty of wordplay through "big" music and dance numbers with loads of sexual connotations. The classic “All that Jazz,” rings true as does the more circus-like tune “Razzle Dazzle” and the ragtime piece “We Both Reached for the Gun.” Though all vastly different, these styles certainly convey the vaudevillian feel so popular in the 1920s.
The nine-piece orchestra is elevated on tiered seating at the rear of the stage as a cast of 2o--many Broadway veterans making their Riverside debuts-- romp across a stage that showed off James Dardenne's strong scenic design talents. Fosse’s alluring and iconic choreographic style was echoed in choreographer's Stafford's intricate dance numbers. Costuming by Kurt Alger was both sumptuous and skimpy, in the scantily-clad dancers.
By the end of opening night the audience was roaring. A fitting tribute to this smart, upbeat production that impresses as much today as when it bowled over Broadway in 1975.