You may have seen Kander & Ebb’s Chicago at your nearby regional, community, or 99-seat theater, but you haven’t seen Chicago in all its Broadway brilliance till you’ve seen the National Tour of the Walter Bobbie-directed, Ann Reinking-choreographed 1996 revival, now dazzling Southern California audiences this week only at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts.

2_National tour of CHICAGO © Paul Kolnik Eschewing the spectacle of the 1975 original’s costumes and sets, the 7000-plus-performance revival takes a minimalist approach—orchestra onstage, a stark black scenic design, and ensemble members garbed in sexy black body-hugging dance gear—but there is still glitz galore, and the same story and songs that first thrilled Broadway audiences nearly four decades ago.

It’s late 1920s Chicago, and vaudeville performer Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod) is awaiting trial for allegedly murdering her husband and sister, whom she caught canoodling in bed.

Long-legged vixen Velma is soon joined in the slammer by sexy chorine Roxie Hart (Paige Davis), accused of murdering her paramour following a lovers’ quarrel. Though guilty as sin, Roxie convinces her patsy husband Amos (Ron Orbach) that the man she shot to death was a burglar, and Amos agrees to take the blame for her crime.

When slow-witted Amos finally puts two plus two together, he vows to leave his murderous spouse to fend for herself in jail.

Roxie is arrested and sent to the Cook County Jail where Velma and a bevy of unrepentant murderesses await their day in court. Roxie soon learns that her only hope of acquittal is defense attorney Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley), a flashy hotshot with a perfect track record for getting his clients off scot-free. News that Billy has taken on Roxie’s case doesn’t sit well with his other client Velma, who refuses share the spotlight with anyone, let alone a nobody like Roxie.

Completing the cast of principals are Matron “Be Good To Mama” Morton (Carol Woods), ever willing to help a nubile inmate in exchange for sexual favors, and sob sister crime reporter Mary Sunshine (C. Newcomer), a woman who believes that every accused murderess has “a bit of good” in her, and takes it upon herself to make sure that Chicagoans’ sympathies remain firmly with Roxie Hart.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Cast. Photo by Paul Kolnik Though Roxie’s story (based on real-life 1924 Chicago hubby-killer Beulah Annan) has been around since Maurine Dallas Watkins’s 1926 play Chicago and the 1942 movie hit Roxie Hart, with Ginger Rogers in the title role, it took book writers Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse to come up with Chicago The Musical’s inspired concept—to stage Roxie’s (and Velma’s) stories as a vaudeville show, with precisely the kind of musical numbers that the two vaudevillians themselves would have performed.

This musical-as-vaudeville approach means that Chicago The Revival’s barebones all-black unit set, orchestra onstage behind the action, makes perfect artistic (not to mention financial) sense . That’s not to say that this touring Broadway production looks cheap. Far from it, given the artistry of scenic designer John Lee Beatty and more particularly thanks to Ken Billington’s glitzy Tony-winning lighting design and William Ivy Long’s sexy, skintight, Tony-nominated costumes.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Ensemble. Photo by Paul Kolnik Bobbie’s pizzazzy Tony-winning direction and Reinking’s Tony-winning Bob Fosse-style choreography have both been expertly recreated for the tour, the former by David Hyslop, the latter by David Bushman, composer John Kander’s and lyricist Ebb’s songs making for one big, brassy production number after another, song after song now part of our musical theater lexicon: “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” “Roxie,” “My Own Best Friend,” “Mr. Cellophane,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Class,” “Nowadays,” and more.

It’s hard to a imagine six more stellar performances than those delivered by Chicago’s dream of a touring cast, all six of its leads having played their roles on Broadway, several of them having made multiple return visits to the Broadway production.

Top draw O’Hurley’s casting may at first appear to be of the Broadway “stunt” variety (“See the Seinfeld star live on stage!”), that is until O’Hurley launches into song, his vocals every bit as gorgeous as J. Peterman’s mellifluous speaking voice, making the most of “All I Care About” and “Razzle Dazzle,” in addition to his “ventriloquism” in the showstopping “We Both Reached For The Gun.” That he’s got dance steps to match and charisma in abundance is icing on the cake.

Davis may also be best known for her many TV appearances as the host of Trading Space, Home & Family, and Home Made Simple, but the reality TV star proves hers a Broadway baby of the first order as Roxie, not merely a gifted singer-dancer but a topnotch actor who invests Miss Hart with infectious joy, chutzpah, and panache.

Roxie’s hubby Amos may be so nondescript that lawyer Billy keeps calling him “Andy,” but there’s nothing nondescript about Orbach’s supporting star-turn and his show-stopping rendition of “Mr. Cellophane.” Woods is yet another scene-stealer as prison Matron “Mama” Morton, and she gets to stop the show twice, with her “When You’re Good To Mama” and with the hilariously ribald Mama-Velma duet of “Class.” And you haven’t heard coloratura until you’ve heard Newcomer hit Mary Sunshine’s highest notes and Mary’s absolutely delicious “A Little Bit Of Good.”

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Merry Murderesses. Photo by Paul Kolnik Still, if there’s anyone deserving to be called Chicago’s star par excellence, it is the phenomenal MacLeod, nearly ten years into playing Velma, a decade of performances (including Velma en français in both Paris and Montreal) that have yielded the kind of razor-sharp brilliance that grabs you from Velma’s first sizzling appearance and holds you captive till the evening’s grand finale. MacLeod’s is a performance fine-tuned to perfection, and the greatest of many great reasons not to miss Chicago on tour.

Leggy “Cell Block Tango” girls Naomi Kakuk (Hunyak), Stephanie Maloney (Mona), Laura Oldham (Annie), Lindsay Roginski (June), and Sherisse Springer (Liz) are each and every one so sensational, they could easily step into either Roxy’s or Velma’s shoes, as could Shamicka Benn-Moser (Go-To-Hell-Kitty). (Roginski and Oldham are in fact Roxy/Velma understudies.)

And then there are the boys, matching their female counterparts in sex appeal and dance chops every Fosse-esque step of the way. Thomas Bevan (The Bailiff, Court Clerk), Ian Campayno (The Doctor, The Jury), Mitchell Dudas (Harry), Jon-Paul Mateo (Fred Casely), Drew Nellessen (Aaron), Christopher VanDenhende (Sergeant Fogerty, The Judge), and Corey Wright (Martin Harrison) are all fabulous, with special snaps to Campayno’s hilarious sextet of jurors.

Christophe Caballero and Jennifer Mathie are swings, Caballero doubling as dance captain.

The entire ensemble merit major kudos for their superb execution of Chicago’s signature Bob Fosse-style choreographic moves, whether in precision unison or each one doing his or her own exciting thing.

Kudos too to music director/onstage orchestra conductor Jesse Kissel, who has a couple of amusing “acting” bits of his own, and to the entire band of Grade A musicians under his baton.

Chicago’s topnotch design/touring team also includes sound designer Scott Lehrer, supervising music director Rob Fisher, orchestrator Ralph Burns, dance music arranger Peter Howard, script adapter David Thompson, musical coordinator John Monaco, technical supervisor Arthur Siccardi, production stage manager L.A. Lavin, and many more.

I’ve seen four regional productions of Chicago over the past three years, leading up to last night’s National Tour, after which yet other Chicago would almost certainly prove a letdown. Check out this Chicago, matchlessly on tour at the Segerstrom, and you’ll see why.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
January 28, 2014
Photos: Paul Kolnik

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