Chicago manages to razzle dazzle

From June 27 through July 2, the ninth longest-running Broadway musical Chicago will make its way to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Six Tony awards and a gross of half a billion dollars later, Chicago is still captivating audiences with its scandalous portrayal of murder, lies and adultery within the American justice system.

The plot of Chicago revolves around Roxie Hart’s (Michelle DeJean) adultery and murder of Fred Casely (Kevin Neil McCready), and her attempt to achieve the stardom she has always dreamed of by various attention-getting moves. The play begs the question: Is any publicity good publicity?

Also in the mix is Vaudeville diva Velma Kelly (Terra C. McLeod), vying for the media’s attention as she goes head-to-head against Roxie in a sort of ratings battle to determine who’s the most scandalous. Along the way are many insights into the justice system and its corruption, as well as an aggressive look into the media’s constant craving for a scandal that will boost circulation.

In Walter Bobbie’s vision, the acting embodies the satirical element of the play very well. The dialogue is there via the script, but an actor can take a sentence and make it mean anything he or she would like. The body movements, coupled with inflections of certain lines, are delivered impeccably to give the viewer a sense of satire throughout the play.

As with all forms of theater and musicals, there are certain elements one expects to find, namely spectacle, music and a sense of drama.

The most spectacular aspect of the play is not in elaborate sets and costuming, but the dancing. At any given moment on stage, various sexy men and women are wearing tights and flashing skin while showing off breathtaking dance moves.

One memorable dance was Velma Kelly (McLeod) and the girls in the ensemble doing the “Cellblock Tango,” wherein each girl gives a deliciously satirical account of how she murdered her husband or lover in the context of a dance choreographed like a game of musical chairs.

“Cellblock Tango” was also a catchy musical number with a well-scored orchestral accompaniment, driven by the chorus: “He had it coming/he had it coming/he only had himself to blame. If you’d have been there/if you’d have heard it/I betcha you would have done the same!”

Another musical highlight was Roxie Hart (DeJean) singing and dancing to “Me and my Baby,” a hilarious number involving Roxie singing about her “unborn child” in order to make headlines. Along the way she starts flirting with the male members of the ensemble. Each one dances as if to impress her.

One especially dramatic scene was Hunyak’s (Jilliana Laufer) Hungarian rope trick. During the precedings leading up to her lynching, the audience was tense. There was no laughter, as the audience was shown the other side of the justice system: the fact that sometimes people die as a result of their actions.

The play began somewhat slowly, due to Velma’s slightly less than impressive acting and singing throughout the opener, “All that Jazz.”

The rest of the cast more than made up for it, though, with supreme acting talent and voices to match.

One standout was Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley). His portrayal was so superb that the greed emanating from him was palpable. That, combined with a ferocious sex appeal, makes him a character that is easy to enjoy loathing.

Chicago is a musical that will live through the ages. The expressions and body language of this version, as well as a heavier satirical emphasis, set it apart from the others. It has all the right stuff – sex appeal, adultery and violence – wrapped into one spectacular and dramatic play in the twentieth century.

If watching the OJ Simpson case was a guilty pleasure of yours, you will like this play. You may still like this play even if you didn’t like watching OJ. Chicago brings to life the three-ring circus that is put on by leeches in the media and the American justice system.

Grade: A