BEFORE the first musical note is played and before the first dance step is showcased, the master of ceremonies, sitting high above the stage at his desk, lets the crowd know they are about to witness a story of greed, treachery, corruption, adultery and murder, “all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.”
For the next two hours, the Lerner and Loewe masterpiece Chicago tells the story of dysfunction, deceit and desperation in a world where craving personal attention is the activity of the day. Running through June 18 at Drury Lane Theatre, Chicago, which is a six-time Tony Award-winner, highlights a slice of Chicago’s history in the 1920s that focuses on several high-profile murder cases that involved women killing their lovers or husbands.
Enter Velma Kelly (played by Aléna Watters), a nightclub singer/vaudevillian accused of murdering her husband and sister. In the opening act, her rendition of “All That Jazz” is the first of many musical numbers (“I Can’t Do It Alone,” “When Velma Takes The Stand,” “Razzle Dazzle,” “Cell Block Tango”) that highlight the smooth-flowing choreography of Jane Lanier, longtime Bob Fosse collaborator and Broadway veteran.
Kelly, serving her time at Cook County Jail, is the star among her fellow inmates––that is until the ultimate attention-getter Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) joins her after murdering her lover then convincing her husband he was a burglar. While incarcerated, she’ll do practically anything to upstage Velma, to the point of faking a pregnancy. In the midst of the nonstop friction between these two divas and four other murderesses––including one who shot her husband in the head twice for popping gum––is matron Mama Morton, charged with the responsibility of keeping everything in order around the cell block. Big-voiced city of Chicago favorite E. Faye Butler steps into that role and by the time she sang “When You’re Good to Mama,” the audience––like the inmates––is wrapped around her finger.
All of that drama eventually falls at the feet of attorney Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard), “the silver-tongued prince of the courtroom” and $5,000-a-case lawyer who is full of charm and brimming with confidence. “I don’t want to blow my own horn,” he says, “but if Jesus had come to me, things would have turned out differently.” Flynn, like Velma and Roxie, has a place in his heart for the spotlight, a spotlight that shines brightly after he decides to represent both Velma and Roxie. But that doesn’t sit well with Velma, who knows Roxie’s calculated decision to hire the man who already was defending her is another bold, shameless example of Roxie’s continuing efforts of one-upsmanship.
Not to be lost in all of this is Roxie’s meek, sometimes gullible and often overlooked husband, Amos Hart (Justin Brill), who wants to believe that his wife loves him even though she repeatedly takes advantage of him and his good-natured personality. He is a sympathetic figure who, while sitting on the edge of the stage alone, further reveals himself in song, saying: “Mr. Cellophane shoulda been my name; Mr. Cellophane ‘cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there.”
Pulling all of the personalities, music and dancing together in this entertaining production is director William Osetek, a recipient of the 2014 Joseph Jefferson Award for best director of a musical (Next to Normal) and who also serves as artistic director at Drury Lane Theatre. In addition to Osetek and the cast, this latest presentation of the 42-year-old musical is winning much critical acclaim due to the talents of a creative team that includes (in addition to Lanier) scenic designer Kevin Depinet, costume designer Sully Ratke, lighting designer Lee Fiskness and sound designer Ray Nardelli. Roberta Duchak, who recently worked on Saturday Night Fever The Musical, returns to Drury Lane as music director, and Chris Sargent is the conductor.
The revitalized musical that still ranks as the longest-running American musical in Broadway history is an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation of betrayal, selfishness and manipulation in an award-winning package of music, dancing and superb acting. For critics and theatergoers alike, Chicago continues to be a big winner on stage.
Aléna Watters takes center stage as Velma Kelly in the Drury Lane Theatre production of the Tony Award-winning musical Chicago.
An alluring Kelly Felthous co-stars as Roxie Hart and (below) the ever-confident attorney Billy Flynn is played by Guy Lockhard.
Tickets for Chicago range from $45 - $60. Wednesday and Thursday matinees are priced at $45; Thursday and Sunday evenings at $55 and Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee performances are $60. Student group tickets start at $30. Tickets for senior citizens start at $40 for matinees. Dinner and show packages are available.