Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery have come to Sacramento.

It all takes place across the street from the Capitol, and has nothing to do with the California Legislature.

John Kander and Fred Ebb's Tony Award-winning 'Chicago,' which razzled and dazzled last week's opening night audience, has returned to the Sacramento Community Theater for a limited engagement that concludes Sunday.

'Chicago' points the finger at this country's perennial fascination with bad boys (and girls), and our tendency to raise them to near cult status as we salivate over every gory detail. Think Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, O.J. Simpson.

This musical is based on actual events from the 1920s, when journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins reported on the trial of a young woman - Beaulah Annan, 'the prettiest murderess' - who killed her boyfriend and then called her husband to announce this news, while a popular fox trot record played in the background.

Years later, William Wellman turned the story into a satirical 1942 film called 'Roxie Hart,' starring Ginger Rogers, in which the heroine confesses to a Chicago murder in order to kick-start her show business career.

This movie inspired choreographer Bob Fosse's collaboration with Kander and Ebb, and the result was 'Chicago, the Musical,' which opened on Broadway in 1975. Stars Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera played two jailbirds who competed for publicity for their respective crimes.

It was revived in 1996, directed by Walter Bobbie and with choreography by Ann Reinking (in the style of Bob Fosse). That production won six Tony Awards and many, many other accolades.

The 2003 film adaptation took the Best Picture Academy Award.

The latter honor notwithstanding, this show's appeal can't be captured on film with quite the same energy or excitement. Watching large clumps of people execute complex dance steps - while making it look effortless - is a live stage experience not to be missed.

Bianca Marroquin is outstanding as Roxie Hart, a housewife with stars in her eyes, who shoots her lover and then tries to use her crime to manufacture a show-biz career. Roxie's crime steals the headlines from Velma Kelly (Brenda Braxton), a once popular singer/dancer, who hopes to do the very same thing.

John O'Hurley is marvelous as the smooth and charming Billy Flynn, a slick lawyer who knows how to work the press and - for a price - make his clients such sympathetic figures that no jury would convict them. One of the show's funnier moments is the song, 'We Both Reached for the Gun,' with Billy acting as ventriloquist to Roxie's dummy.

Carol Woods is a strong presence, as Matron 'Mama' Morton, particularly when she sings 'When You're Good to Mama.'

Roxie's long-suffering husband, Amos Hart - a man who loves his wife no matter what - is given an appropriately downtrodden characterization by Tom Riis Farrell. We can't help falling in love with Amos when he sings 'Mr. Cellophane,' and everyone wants to give him a hug.

The play is filled with fabulous ensemble numbers that rely as much on choreography as on lyrics. The 'Cell Block Tango,' where each woman explains how she happened to kill her husband/lover, is marvelous.

Scenic designer John Lee Beatty places the orchestra center stage, with character entrances and exits over, under, around and through the orchestra box. Ken Billington provides the dramatic lighting, and the elegant yet decadent costumes are by William Ivey Long.

'Chicago' will make you clap enthusiastically, and then depart the theater while humming 'All that Jazz.' What more could be asked of an evening's entertainment?

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