Dallas — “In this town, murder’s a form of entertainment,” says one inmate to another, as we’re thrust into the leggy, jazzy 1920s world of Chicago, the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical, indelibly choreographed by Bob Fosse, hip thrusts, jazz hands and all. The original 1975 Broadway show was nominated for beaucoup Tonys that year (losing to A Chorus Line), and then scored a round of wins with Ann Reinking’s tweak of the Fosse’s work in 1996.
In the national touring production, now onstage at the Winspear Opera House in AT&T Performing Arts Center, choreographer David Bushman “re-creates” Reinking’s choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse.” Sexy and muscled as race horses, the stunning dancers are as smooth and irresistibly seductive as ever. They leap effortlessly and in perfect unison to “All that Jazz.” Ordinary chairs are made suddenly sexy when partnered by a dozen long, black-stockinged legs in “Cell Block Tango.” Of course, he had it comin’.
Why change a classic, when the classic changed the look of musicals going forward? At intermission young two men in the lobby practiced their close body moves and one did a leap turn, landing soundlessly. The noisy, eager opening night audience at the Winspear clapped their hands high in the air to the show’s medley opening the second act, performed by a 16-member jazz band assembled from local musicians, sitting on risers front and center on the stage, led with minimal fuss and a sweet New Orleans ease by Andrew Bryan.
And what’s not to love about a story of murder, adultery, a corrupt judicial system and a press that feeds on sensation, lies and melodrama? Sound familiar?
Vaudeville singer Velma Kelly (svelte, in-your-face Terra C. MacLeod) and wanna-be chorus cutie Roxie Hart (curvy, pouty Dylis Croman, an alumna of Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts) are convicted murderers, competing for the attention of the press to tell some touching story to keep them from hanging. Sure, all the gals in their cell block killed their lousy men from passion. Why else?
Billy Flynn (former NFL running back Eddie George, tall, dark and enjoying the attention) is their famed lawyer, the purveyor of sob stories to the media for cash and a cut of the action. He’s huggable surrounded by ostrich-feather fans and singing “All I Care About Is Love,” and hilarious in “We Both Reached for the Gun,” jerking hapless Roxie around like a ventriloquist manipulating a puppet.
MacLeod is a natural for Fosse’s dance style. Long-legged and supple as a fawn, her sexiness is in her optimist’s energy and cynic’s humor. She’s hot and funny singing “When Velma Takes the Stand,” surrounded by the male ensemble. She definitely belies the song’s title in her desperately manic delivery of both parts of a sister act in “I Can’t Do It Alone.”
Croman conveys a captivating vulnerability in her dancing, especially in her wistful delivery of “Roxie,” a vision of how one day she’ll be rich and famous and have lots of gorgeous boys within arm’s length all the time. The in-fact gorgeous male dancers are all over this one, and the number makes flesh a funny-sexy female fantasy. Her evocative singing of “Funny Honey,” an ode to her loyal husband who tried to take the rap for her crime, reveals a lovely ballad voice.
Paul Vogt, as Amos Hart, the sucker husband, got applause coming and going for his achingly sad, white-gloved delivery of “Mister Cellophane,” evoking vaudeville and Chaplin and all kinds of vibes at once.
Jennifer Fouché has everybody clapping and laughing as the ward matron singing “When You’re Good to Mama”, and she and MacLeod are a hoot in their grousing song about the wane of “Class” on the criminal scene. Yeah. Well, how about in the White House, ladies?
William Ivey Long’s black see-through and leather costumes highlight the dancers’ bodies and movements, as does John Lee Beatty’s minimal set design and Ken Billington’s cabaret lighting design, all blues and magentas, with white spotlights against gold shimmer.
Give us some more razzle dazzle. It’s clearly what we want right now.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review stated that the original production of Chicago won most of the Tonys that year. It did not; it was bested by A Chorus Line.