As the musical “Chicago” sends its two murderesses out for a finale to close out each night of the production, we’re presented with the following lyrics from the song “Nowadays”:
“In fifty years or so
It’s gonna change, you know
But, oh, it’s heaven
Things do change, often very incrementally. But we’re now a full 25+ years into the current revival of “Chicago.” The show has been on Broadway since 1996 – back when Bill Clinton was president of the United States and “E.R.” was the most popular show on television (and George Clooney was still in the show then, too).
That makes “Chicago” the second-longest-running show in Broadway history, right in the middle of “Phantom of the Opera” in first place and “Cats” in third. Its tenure alone makes it, somewhat sneakily, not just part of the musical theater canon, but one of its most enduring classics. The show has toured frequently, coming through Fayetteville on more than one occasion. The 25th anniversary tour just arrived at the Walton Arts Center, where it runs through Sunday (Nov. 13).
If you’ve seen “Chicago” before, it’s the show you know. And if you haven’t, well, you’ve had 26 years of opportunities.
The show begins with Roxie Hart (played locally by Katie Frieden) shooting a lover in the apartment she shares with her husband, Amos (played by Brian Kalinowski). Her pulling the trigger is never in dispute – but we spend the next two hours spinning ever-more-elaborate tales of her motivations. She’s flanked – sometimes in jail, and sometimes on stage – by Velma Kelly (played by Logan Floyd). Velma is yet another jazz era husband killer who competes for national attention with Roxie.
The musical, written by Fred Ebb and John Kander, and featuring choreography by Bob Fosse, satirizes our fascination with celebrity and violence. It originally debuted in 1975, and close to 50 years later, we’re still just as obsessed with fame and violence.
Both women are aided by slick lawyer, Billy Flynn (played by Jeff Brooks). “All he cares about is love,” a chorus of women sing as he enters the stage. Yes, he cares about love – and $5,000 per case.
His manipulation of the press and jury is unmatched. And his puppeteering skills are shown off in what I would argue was the highlight of the show I watched Tuesday (Nov. 8) night. In “We Both Reached for the Gun” Flynn orchestrates Roxie’s press conference and makes everyone dance to his tune. It was as well executed and as charming as ever.
When: Nov. 9-13, 2022
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Cost: Tickets start at $50 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org
Note: As of August 2022, there are no specific COVID safety requirements for those attending the show. Details can be found on the venue’s COVID policies page.
With standout songs like “All That Jazz” and “When You’re Good to Mama” and an award-winning movie adaptation, I often forget that “Chicago” is a dance-first musical until I see it live on a stage. The current show features beautiful bodies in constant motion, and the vaudeville backbone of the show serves as a launching point for many dance numbers, like when Velma and Roxie go into lockstep for the duet “Hot Honey Rag.”
Those dances have helped make the musical the enduring hit it remains – even if there are subtleties that have changed. Much of the differences between previous versions I’ve seen – both here and elsewhere – come down to acting choices by the lead characters. Floyd’s Velma Kelly was a little campier and a little less confident than other takes of the character that I’ve seen. I’m not sure I like that version as much. Brooks’s Billy Flynn felt a little colder and little meaner than some of the smarmy takes I’ve seen. It’s just … different.
No doubt, it’s difficult to occupy a role that people have been enjoying for 25 years. And when an audience member has a distinct opinion of what the role should or shouldn’t be, that makes it even tougher for the cast. Sometimes it felt like the actors were going through the motions of the show as a result. We’re at the point of this show’s run where there’s nothing on the musical’s main website about this version. It just sort of … is.
But it runs unabated through our consciousness. “Chicago” still has a bit of that “Razzle Dazzle” after all this time. Will it be enough to catch “Phantom,” which recently announced it was closing? We’ve only got about 3,000 performances until we find out.