2015. CHICAGO. Music: John Kander, Fred Ebb. Based on the Play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Bob Fosse. Director. Michael Barnard. Cast. Kate E. Cook, Jenny Hintze, Walter Belcher, Terey Summers, Brian Runbeck, Jose Amor, Shani Barrett, Timothy Bishop, Nic Bryan, Daniela Castro, Michelle Chin, Brooke Robyn Dairman, Chris Ericksen, Lynzee Foreman, Tyler J. Gasper, Jeremiah James, Edgar Lopez, L. Mitchell, Alex Nordin, Laurie Trygg, Sarah Wiechman . Set Design: Greg Jaye, Joel Birch.
Kerry Lengel’s Review in The Arizona Republic
Phoenix Theatre got rave reviews for its 2003 production of “Chicago,” so instead of going back to the drawing board, artistic director Michael Barnard has done his best to re-create that success in his latest revival.
I certainly don’t blame him. If it ain’t broke …
The main ingredient is a fabulous Art Deco set (an homage to the Jazz Age milieu) built around a trio of turntables and a matching pair of sinuous staircases. Originally conceived by Greg Jaye and executed by Joel Birch, the design is a dynamic playground for the director to invent dramatic entrances and for choreographer Sam Hay to dream up various slinky, kinky visions.
Slick, sleek, sexy — these are all minimum requirements for a successful “Chicago,” the Kander and Ebb musical whose 1975 premiere was directed by the incomparable Bob Fosse. The show was inspired by a series of real-life murder trials in the Windy City in the 1920s, when a string of attractive young women were acquitted of some grisly deeds by all-male juries.
“Chicago’s” sly vaudevillian staging turns this inspiration into something in between a satire and a celebration of America’s tabloid culture, with the public eye flitting to the latest lurid scandal, turning evildoers into celebrities — at least for their allotted 15 minutes.
In Phoenix Theatre’s version, the inventive design sets the cast up for success, and Kate E. Cook single handedly seals the deal with her brassy turn as Roxie Hart, a déclassé chorus girl who guns down her lover and then tries to get her hangdog hubby to take the rap. With a 120-watt smile that shines straight to the needy, narcissistic heart of her character, Cook is a knockout.
She also somewhat overshadows her co-star, Jenny Hintze, who plays Roxie’s jailhouse frenemy, vaudeville performer Velma Kelly. Hintze is a talented triple threat and a crowd favorite at Phoenix Theatre, but her sweet, girl-next-door vibe isn’t a good fit for the haughty, jaded Velma.
Yet the casting overall is sharp, from the sexy chorus boys on up to Walter Belcher’s amusing turn as the smarmy defense lawyer Billy Flynn. Belcher is African-American, which bears mention only because this is a role often played by actors who are not just White but very, very White, such as John O’Hurley, of “Seinfeld” fame, who starred in the touring version that played Tempe’s ASU Gammage earlier this year. Belcher’s take — drifting into a Louis Armstrong bit and turning the climactic trial scene into a fiery faux revival — is a nice change of pace as well as a bona-fide hoot.
This is one musical that’s packed with memorable showstoppers, from the sensuous opener of “All That Jazz” through the sexy-scary “Cell Block Tango” (“He had it comin’!”) through to Flynn’s supercilious “Razzle Dazzle.” Then there’s “Mister Cellophane,” the unforgettable lament to forgettability sung by Roxie’s long suffering husband, Amos; Brian Runbeck’s turtlish rendition is both hilarious and beautifully sung.
Among all these classic numbers, my favorite might just be “Roxie,” not so much for its melody or lyrics but for the space it makes for a droll soliloquy in which the title character exposes her dream of fame. No matter how misguided, Roxie’s longing for significance — to matter — is the one fully human moment in a show that revels in artifice. Cook, the hands-down star of this production, seizes the moment and makes it her own.