Sex, murder and all that jazz: 'Chicago' never fails to impress


The Kansas City Star

Allison Blair McDowell, (as Mona), sang Tuesday during “Cell Block Tango,” in “Chicago,” at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Allison Blair McDowell, (as Mona), sang Tuesday during “Cell Block Tango,” in “Chicago,” at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The Kansas City Star

I can’t say exactly how many times I’ve seen “Chicago” — at least three, maybe four — but it never fails to impress me with what an audacious piece of theater it really is.

Structured as a vaudeville entertainment with no scenery and a band in full view on the stage, this show doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: A raucous Roaring 20s story of celebrity killers in Chicago who parlay their notoriety into show-business careers.

By stripping the story to its essentials, the creators achieved something you rarely see on Broadway — pure theater.

The show wears its cynicism on its sleeve. But cynicism and sex never get old in movies and theater, and this show cheerfully sells both.

Needless to say, if you’re looking for a life-affirming musical full of anthems about the indomitable human spirit, just stay at home and listen to “Wicked” on your preferred electronic device.

Here’s why you want to see this show: the jazzy score by John Kander is one of his best; the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse depicts a corrupt judicial system and an ethics-challenged press that feels remarkably up to date; it fills the stage with gorgeous dancers in tights and high heels prancing and strutting to Fosse-like choreography; and it offers great roles for its four principal actors.

And it just so happens that the touring production at the Kauffman Center has four exceptionally talented principals. The irresistibly charming Bianca Marroquin offered an unusual and often funny version of Roxie Hart, in the lockup for shooting her illicit lover; a lithe Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, who will go to trial for killing her husband and sister after she caught them in bed; John O’Hurley as the blithe lawyer Billy Flynn, who will represent anyone for $5,000 cash; and Jacob Keith Watson as Roxie’s husband, Amos.

Marroquin, MacLeod and O’Hurley have performed this show often in the long-running Broadway revival and on tour, and their experience shows.

O’Hurley, particularly, achieved a sort of cruise-control efficiency as the effortlessly glib Flynn. Watson made a big impression as Amos, a role that in some productions becomes as invisible as Amos says he is. His performance, like those of the other principals, was precise — but a show like this demands nothing less than precision from everyone.

Tours based on the Broadway revival have traveled the country and world so long that David Bushman is credited with “re-creating” Ann Reinking’s choreography “in the Fosse style,” and David Hyslop officially reproduces Walter Bobbie’s original direction. I saw no degradation in the product.

There were moments on opening night when I thought the performances needed a bit more oomph. But I’ve seen the show before — too often, perhaps, for it to hold many surprises. The audience, on the other hand, ate it up.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.


“Chicago” runs through Jan. 25 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Call 816-994-7222 or go to www.theaterleague.com.