The multiple Tony® Award winning 1996 City Stage Encores! revival of Chicago — that wonderfully wicked John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse musical about girls gone wild in the Windy City — will make the Roaring Twenties roar again in a return engagement Nov. 11-16 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of the Broadway Series South Encore Series.
Stage and screen star Gregory Harrison, best known for playing Dr. George Alonzo "Gonzo" Gates on the television series "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-86), headlines the traveling show's stellar cast. Harrison plays high-priced criminal defense attorney Billy Flynn in the Third National Tour of Chicago, produced by five-time Tony Award winners Barry and Fran Weissler, directed by Tony winner Walter Bobbie, and choreographed by Tony winner Ann Reinking in the style of the late Bob Fosse (1927-87).
The Third National Tour also features a striking set design by John Lee Beatty, spectacular costumes by William Ivey Long, and artful lighting by Ken Billington.
The 1996 City Stage Encores! Broadway revival of Chicago won six 1997 Tonys, including the awards for Best Musical Revival, Best Direction (Walter Bobbie), and Best Choreography (Ann Reinking). Bobbie and Reinking mounted this 180-proof revival as a homage to legendary hard-living Broadway and Hollywood director/choreographer Bob Fosse. (Fosse won eight Tonys, the 1973 best-director Academy Award for the motion-picture version of Cabaret, and an Emmy for the 1972 TV special "Liza with a 'Z,'" starring Liza Minnelli.)
It was Fosse who obtained the rights to Maurine Dallas Watkins' 1926 ripped-from-the-headlines drama and co-wrote the book with Fred Ebb. Lyricist/librettist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander are the dynamic duo who penned the music and lyrics for Cabaret (1966), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), and Steel Pier (1997).
By coincidence, Gregory Harrison made his Broadway debut in Steel Pier, which the North Carolina Theatre revamped and toured with an NCT cast in September 2000. In Chicago, Harrison plays a true courthouse charlatan.
Bill Flynn is movie-star handsome and slick as a wolf whistle. His courtroom theatrics turn the Chicago criminal justice system into a form of vaudeville.
For the right price (prepaid in hard, cold cash, of course), Billy Flynn will unleash his patented brand of legal razzle-dazzle on gullible Cook County jurors and convince them that "not guilty" is the only possible verdict, no matter how much evidence the prosecution has amassed.
Two of Flynn's current clients, sexy jazz slayers Velma Kelly (Brenda Braxton) and Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin), actually compete to see who can generate the most lurid headlines while awaiting trial in the women's section of the Cook County jail, where Matron "Mama" Morton (Carol Woods) rules with an iron fist but can be convinced — if the price is right — to provide some very special privileges for well-heeled inmates. Roxie's sad-sack husband, Amos (Ray Bokhour), and sob sister supreme Mary Sunshine (R. Bean) are two more major characters.
Gregory Harrison, Brenda Braxton, and Bianca Marroquin recently played Billy Flynn, Velma Kelly, and Roxie Hart on Broadway in the ongoing production of the 1996 revival of Chicago; and Carol Woods will reprise the role of Mama Morton, which she played during the First National Tour of Chicago.
Praise for the Third National Tour of Chicago includes praise for its star. "Gregory Harrison, as the sly lawyer Billy Flynn, is less the savvy, silver-tongued charmer than the blustery showman," writes Karen Campbell in The Boston Globe. "However, he looks completely at home in the production numbers, and he has a very solid voice."
Eye Weekly's Christopher Hoile agrees, "As Billy Flynn, Gregory Harrison is a true song-and-dance man who catches perfectly the show's blend of glitz and cynicism."
Tony Brown of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) raves, "Dapper, slick and vocally commanding, Gregory Harrison from 'Trapper John, M.D.' steals the spotlight as Billy Flynn, the $5,000-a-case lawyer who claims he could have sprung Jesus.
"On second thought, forget the spotlight," says Brown. "Brenda Braxton's long, tall Velma Kelly — who has killed not only her husband but her sister as well — could light up the whole show with those dazzling teeth."
Brown adds, "Bianca Marroquin brings an aging little girl vulnerability to Roxie Hart, a washed-up chorus girl who kills her lover and hopes to parlay the act into fame and fortune. Her rag-doll floppiness and Harrison's wily vocals make the ventriloquism number 'We Both Reached for the Gun' a showstopper.
"In supporting roles," Brown notes, "Carol Woods has loads of fun and funk as Mama (particularly in her duet with Braxton on the deliciously vulgar 'Class,' cut from the film); Ray Bokhour is big and meek as Amos, Roxie's loser husband; and R. Bean does lovely falsetto work as Mary Sunshine, the reporter with rose-tinted glasses."
Christopher Hoile of Eye Weekly claims, "The athletic touring company is slick and precise. Every kick, bounce, flex and swivel is both a come-on and a dare. Rob Marshall's choreography in the film is a pale imitation of Fosse's and suffers from too much editing. Besides, on stage you hear the third of the music missing from the film, including two of the cleverer numbers, 'Little Bit of Good' and 'Class.'"
NowToronto.com's Susan G. Cole says, "This Chicago doesn't look like a touring show, mainly because the original specimen is classic musical minimalism, already stripped for speed and made for travel, and because it boasts a kick-ass orchestra interacting in an almost postmodern way with awesome singers and dancers."
Second Opinion: Vicki Hyman's Nov. 9th News & Observer profile of Gregory Harrison: http://www.newsobserver.com/features/arts/story/3013101p-2756953c.html [inactive 4/04].
Broadway Series South presents Chicago Tuesday-Friday, Nov. 11-14, at 8 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 15, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, No. 16, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25.50-$69. Ticketmaster: 919/834-4000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/844316. Group Sales: 919/231-4575 or http://www.priorityseating.net/. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2003-2004/encore.html#chicago. Chicago (1996 Revival): http://www.chicagothemusical.com/indexm.html. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=3748 (original production, 1975-77) and http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4804 (revival, 1996-present). Chicago (2002 Film): http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0299658/. Gregory Harrison: http://www.gregoryharrison.ws/ and http://www.gregoryharrisonsite.com/ and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002129/. "Trapper John, M.D." (1979-86 TV Series): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078704/.