“Chicago,” 25 Years Later, Continues Remarkable Run During WAC Productions – Fayetteville Flyer
As the musical “Chicago” sends its two killers for a finale to close out each night of production, we are presented with the following lyrics from the song “Nowadays”:
“In fifty years
It’s gonna change, you know
But, oh, it’s heaven
Things change, often very gradually. But we are now over 25 years into the current “Chicago” revival. The show has been on Broadway since 1996 – back when Bill Clinton was President of the United States and “ER” was the most popular show on television (and George Clooney was still on the show at the time also).
That makes “Chicago” the second-longest-running show in Broadway history, smack in the middle of “Phantom of the Opera” in first place and “Cats” in third. Its tenure alone makes it, somewhat slyly, not just part of the musical theater canon, but one of its most enduring classics. The show toured extensively, passing through Fayetteville on more than one occasion. The 25th Anniversary Tour has just arrived at Walton Center for the Artswhere it runs until Sunday (November 13).
If you’ve ever seen “Chicago”, this is the series you know. And if you haven’t, well, you’ve had 26 years of opportunity.
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). His pull of the trigger is never disputed – but we spend the next two hours telling increasingly elaborate stories about his motives. She is flanked – sometimes in prison, and sometimes on stage – by Velma Kelly (played by Logan Floyd). Velma is yet another Jazz Age husband-killer vying for national attention with Roxie.
The musical, written by Fred Ebb and John Kander, and featuring choreography by Bob Fosse, satirizes our fascination with fame and violence. It debuted in 1975, and nearly 50 years later, we’re still just as obsessed with fame and violence.
The two women are aided by the shrewd lawyer, Billy Flynn (played by Jeff Brooks). “All he cares about is love,” sings a chorus of women as he walks onto the stage. Yes, he cares about love — and $5,000 a case.
His handling of the press and jury is unmatched. And his puppeteering skills are on full display in what I would say was the highlight of the show I watched on Tuesday (November 8) night. In “We Both Reached for the Gun”, Flynn orchestrates Roxie’s press conference and gets everyone dancing to her tune. It was as well executed and as charming as ever.
When: November 9-13, 2022
Where: Walton Center for the Arts, Fayetteville
Cost: Tickets start at $50 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or waltonartscenter.org
To note: As of August 2022, there are no specific COVID safety requirements for people attending the show. Details can be found on the website COVID Policies Page.
With standout songs like “All That Jazz” and “When You’re Good to Mama” and an award-winning film adaptation, I often forget that “Chicago” is a dance musical until I see it live on stage. The current show features beautiful bodies in constant motion, and the show’s vaudeville backbone serves as the starting point for many of the dance numbers, such as when Velma and Roxie join the duo “Hot Honey Rag.”
These dances helped make the musical the enduring success that it remains – even if some subtleties have changed. A lot of the differences between previous versions that I’ve seen – both here and elsewhere – come down to the main characters’ casting choices. Floyd’s Velma Kelly was a little more campy and a little less confident than other takes of the character I’ve seen. I’m not sure I like this version as much. Brooks’ Billy Flynn felt a bit colder and a bit meaner than some of the smarmy takes I’ve seen. It’s just… different.
No doubt, it is difficult to occupy a role that people have enjoyed for 25 years. And when an audience member has a distinct opinion of what the role should or shouldn’t be, it makes it even harder for the cast. At times, it felt like the actors were following the show’s moves accordingly. We’re at the running point of this show where there is nothing on the main musical site about this version. It just sort of…is.
But it relentlessly crosses 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 its closure? We only have about 3,000 performances as of now.