Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Bridgette M. Redman
Watching the newest national tour of “Chicago” in Grand Rapids, one is struck with the thought that the Onion wouldnÕt have hesitated to hire Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander. It doesnÕt matter that the subject matter is now nearly 100 years old, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are as familiar as ever. TheyÕre the would-be artist celebrities who have no talent but plenty of fame and can get away with murder so long as they razzle-dazzle the crowds.
Was that really 100 years ago and not yesterdayÕs news broadcast?
The latest tour, directed by Scott Faris, opened in Grand Rapids Tuesday with John OÕHurley joining the cast for the first time as Billy Flynn. The television celebrity walked on stage to great appreciation from the audience who recognized him from “Seinfeld,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “Family Feud.” While he had the face recognition, he did not display the charisma and skill of the other performers and often mugged rather than make a character choice.
However, OÕHurleyÕs languid performance was more than compensated by the other actors. Roz Ryan as Matron ÒMamaÓ Morton interacted easily with the audience, directing them as easily as she did the inmates. She belted and squeaked to great comic effect. Terra MacLeod was hard-edged in temperament as Velma Kelly and more flexible than a ferret when it came to moving on stage. She could do things with a chair that could make Lady Gaga blush. Tracy ShayneÕs Roxie Hart was pouty and spoiled, a selfish minx who never gets what she deserves. She also played her as harder and older than the Roxie whom Billy Flynn sold to the public, setting up a contrast that gave heavy underlining to the showÕs satire.
T.W. Smith displayed an impressive range as Mary Sunshine, particularly in the number ÒA Little Bit of Good.Ó While SmithÕs voice sometimes revealed a bit too much about the characterÕs denouement later in the show, it is still easy to tell that Smith had operatic training permitting such a strong performance of a demanding song.
Stealing the show was the chorus, dancers who would have made Fosse and their ballet teachers proud. Gary ChrystÕs choreography used every body part and created a series of stunning moving pictures. Even the dancersÕ thighs had moves all of their own that jiggled in perfect coordination across the stage. Nor were many of their body parts hidden with tightly bound strips of fabric and open mesh stockings serving as costumes that revealed more than they covered.
Faris was sparse in his choices, letting all the focus be on the incredible dancing talents of individual actors. The costume pallet used a single color — black. The stage and pit were both contained in a gold picture frame with black chairs acting as the only set pieces. Dancers occasionally brought on white feathers or gloves to provide contrast, but it was the lack of color variety that was most striking.
Calling the orchestraÕs performance space a ÒpitÓ is a bit misleading, as they were placed center stage a la ÒSpring Awakening,Ó creating a set that indicated a jazz club where the dancers were telling the story more than the changing locations of apartment, speakeasy, courtroom and jail. When the chorus finished a particular number, they would take seats along the edge of the stage, sometimes applauding or responding to the other acts. Performers also interacted with the orchestra in general and Musical Director Eric Barnes in particular.
This version of “Chicago” doesnÕt hesitate to let you know that the protagonists are not nice women, and that the only decent people — Amos (Ron Orbach) and the Hungarian (Evelyn Christina Tonn) — are those who suffer the greatest injustice and are used, abused and then forgotten. Faris lets you like those two while spotlighting just how vile the behavior of everyone else is.
By the end of this topsy-turvy world of “Chicago” where justice is blind, sex sells and an ÒangleÓ is more important than truth, one realizes that the gold frame around the stage isnÕt displaying a portrait, but holding up a mirror.
“Chicago” is making the rounds in Michigan: First in Grand Rapids, next in East Lansing, and finally in Detroit.
Wharton Center at Michigan State University, East Lansing. May 12 – 15. $25 and up. 1-800-Wharton. http://www.whartoncenter.com
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. May 17 – 22. $29-$75. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com