Confession time: I am not a big fan of Chicago.
I know. I know.
It’s not the music: it’s fantastic and several songs are considered classic for good reason. It’s the characters. There isn’t a single likable soul amongst them which makes the emotional investment in the show more difficult. It’s possible, but for me, it takes good casting to really make the show work for me.
And I am happy to report that the generally speaking the cast was fantastic all around. I will say that I enjoyed the three supporting roles the best. Lucy Lawless (Matron “Mama” Morton), Stephen Moyer (Billy Flynn) and Drew Carey (Amos Hart) all felt like they were made for the parts. Special props to Drew Carey who might be the most perfect Amos I’ve ever seen. His physical appearance plus the way he can kind of crawl into himself made him a perfect non-entity. Stephen Moyer was as charming as ever and Lucy Lawless easily gave Queen Latifah a run for her money. I enjoyed her performance so much I wish she’d had more stage time.
This isn’t to say that the female leads were bad – far from it. Both Samantha Banks (Velma) and Ashlee Simpson (Roxie Hart) performed their hearts out and were great from both the singing and the dancing. My problem was more that these parts are generally cast with middle aged women in their forties and I think that it honestly works better when they’re older. For one, Roxie is singing a song about having missed her chance in show business. It’s kind of hard to buy that if Roxie looks to be in her mid-twenties. Beyond that though, the way these characters act and their motivations feel much more like they belong to women who are fed up with it all and know they are stuck in life. It just feels like it’s more befitting women older than these two girls are. The choice to cast them younger was a deliberate decision of Brooke Shields and I just don’t think that casting younger necessarily paid off. I don’t think they had the life experience behind them to pull off that extra bit of world weariness that those parts demanded.
Staging wise, this is the 1996 revival show from the dance, to the costumes, to the minimalist set pieces. This kind of show is actually perfect for the Hollywood Bowl since the limitations of the stage don’t lend themselves well to more elaborate fare.
All told, any qualms I had with this show were minor and I thought it was done so well that I would have bought a recorded copy if any had existed. I enjoyed this version more than I ever did the film or even the national touring company production I saw back in the late 90s. The show remains as relevant as ever (maybe even more so in light of the Trevyon Martin case) and I’m really happy I went. I don’t know that I’m necessarily a convert, but this version got me really close. And that’s better than I expected.
P.S. I love whoever came up with the idea of having Moyer pretending to fang during Razzle Dazzle when he sang about getting away with murder. Great little aside that didn’t interrupt the show but still showed that they weren’t taking this too seriously.