Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Theater review part deux: Chicago at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas - Pegasus News

AT&T PAC's Winspear Opera House hosts a razzling, dazzling production of America's longest running musical.

Cast members from Chicago

Paul Kolnik

Cast members from Chicago

â€" There are few musicals as dry, sophisticated, saucy, and razor sharp as John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse’s Chicago. Based on a play written in the 20’s by Maurine Dallas Watkins, choreographed and directed by Bob Fosse, Chicago (as originally staged in the '70s) was an ingenious feat of savvy and minimalism. With a bare skeleton of props and set pieces (canes, hats, ladders, chairs) and few costume changes, Fosse conceived a show that made ironic commentary on the nature of morality, values, and celebrity, arising virtually from content, blocking, and dance.

There are a handful of key characters: Roxie Hart, Velma Kelley, Billy Flynn, Amos Hart … the rest are portrayed by the company of sleek, exquisite, seductively attired dancers. They all wear black. The men wear vests and tight fitting pants while the women wear variations on lingerie and come-hither boudoir togs. They do midair splits and kick and crawl and glide and climb, in addition in to all the other steps that dancers do, in the notoriously demanding Fosse style. They send the message that Chicago extols with such clarity, that sex creates a lot of trouble and misery in the world.

Tracy Shayne (center) stars as Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Jeremy Daniel

Tracy Shayne (center) stars as Roxie Hart in Chicago.

Roxie Hart has murdered her lover for walking out on her. She winds up in jail where she meets Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod) as well as other women accused of murder. The prison matron, Mama Morton (Kecia Lewis Evans) lays out the protocol for her (“When You’re Good to Mama”) and arranges to get to get Roxie (Tracey Shayne) in touch with high profile attorney, Billy Flynn (John O‘Hurley). Roxie begins to realize that that murder might just be the break she needs, to bolster her flagging career. Caught in the middle is Roxie’s gullible but devoted husband, Amos (Ron Orbach) who believes his wife only shot to protect herself from rape. What follows amounts to a cynical morality tale that nonetheless, exposes the widespread contempt for ethics in a hedonistic, corrupt world.

The ATTPAC production of Chicago, currently playing at the Winspear, has no lack of talent, teeming with energy and panache, each number designed to be a showstopper. Which pretty much works. The choreography is provocative, meticulous, and tight. The cast knows how to sparkle, howl, and include us in the fun. The one mistake was putting the orchestra in a huge, prominent box which forced the actors to perform around the perimeter. As previously mentioned, one of the great joys of Chicago is experiencing how much they can do without a lot of accoutrements. There aren’t a lot of big, elaborate sets, yet the piece is powerful and packed with pure theatricality. By letting the musicians dominate the stage by (easily) 75%, they’ve marginalized the performers, who prevail in spite of this tactical error. This shouldn’t keep you away (Chicago is far too pleasurable to miss). It’s like cramming 20 tulips in a bud vase.

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