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If you saw the slick Academy Award®-winning motion-picture version of the Roaring Twenties musical Chicago, starring the glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart and matinee idol-handsome Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, then the Third National Tour of Chicago, playing through Jan. 29th in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium courtesy Broadway Series South, may shock you. Film director and choreographer Rob Marshall reimagined this deliciously dirty 1975 Broadway musical about getting away with murder in the Windy City in the late 1920s as a show that takes place inside Roxie’s head a la Bobby Ewing’s “dream” all during an entire season of the Prime-Time soap opera “Dallas.”
Director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking, who staged the Tony Award®-winning 1996 Broadway revival in the flamboyant but gritty style of Bob Fosse, have decidedly different approach to the material. They have restored the skimpy costumes, the minimalist set, and the sordid shenanigans to this touring version of Chicago, whose sensational but raunchy choreography is robustly reproduced by Gary Chryst in every scandalous detail.
Michelle DeJean and Terra C. MacLeod put pizzazz into their pungent portrayals of sultry jazz slayers Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who learn how to save themselves from the hangman’s noose from Matron “Mama” Morton (Carol Woods) and high-priced defense attorney Billy Flynn (Obba Babatunde). They must take full advantage of every legal loophole and shamelessly manipulate sob sister Mary Sunshine (R. Bean) and the rest of the Chicago news media to build public opinion for their acquittals by the hopelessly corrupt Cook County criminal court system.
Terra MacLeod is cool in the 1950s sense and icy cold — indeed, almost reptilian — as a former vaudevillian who killed her husband and her sister and former song-and-dance partner in a fit of rage when she walked in on them unexpectedly and caught them dancing the horizontal mambo. Michelle DeJean is red hot as lethal redhead Roxie Hart, who cheats on her poor sad-sack husband Amos (Kevin Carolan) with furniture salesman Fred Casely (Kevin Neil McCready), and then shoots Casely three times when the louse tries to walk out on her.
Obba Babatunde is a dapper delight and one slick character as slippery defense attorney-for-hire Billy Flynn; and R. Bean is good, although not always entirely audible, as Mary Sunshine. But Kevin Carolan and Carol Woods are scene stealers. Carolan is a stitch the way he walks, the way he talks, as Amos Hart a.k.a. “Mister Cellophane”; and Woods gives a big brassy performance as Matron “Mama” Morton — indeed, she stops the show when she belts out “When You’re Good to Mama.”
Nicole Bridgewater (Liz), Ivy Fox (Annie), Mary Ann Lamb (June), Jillana Laufer (Hunyak), and Jennifer MacKenzie Dunne (Mona) are full of spit and vinegar as the “merry murderesses” of the Cook County jail; Angel Reda adds an explosive cameo as Go-to-Hell Kitty, and wealthy and socially prominent heiress whose hair-trigger temper leads to multiple murder; and Christophe Caballero delights the audience as he neatly segues from role to role to role in playing all 12 men of the jury.
In addition to director Walter Bobbie, choreographer Ann Reinking, and producers Barry and Fran Weissler, other key players from the creative team of the still-running 1996 Broadway revival of Chicago — including scenic designer John Lee Beatty; costume designer William Ivey Long; lighting designer by Ken Billington; sound designer by Scott Lehrer — also repeat their roles with distinction for the Third National Tour of Chicago. So, the show looks and, thanks to musical director Vincent Fanuele and the cool, cool cats in the onstage orchestra, sounds like a million bucks.
Broadway Series South presents Chicago Thursday-Friday, Jan. 26-27, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 29, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $26.50-$63. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/group.html#chicago [inactive 2/06]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2005-2006/broadway.html#chicago [inactive 2/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=9942. Broadway Revival: http://www.chicagothemusical.com/indexl.html. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0299658/. The Movie: http://www.miramax.com/chicago/index.html [inactive 3/06].