Chicago at Gammage

Jack and I attended a performance of Chicago at ASU’s Gammage Theatre last week.  I have seen the performance a few times and this was Jack’s first.

Jack’s view:

Regardless of the production, I have mixed feelings about Chicago as a narrative.  This is a story bereft of a clear protagonist, or really any arguably positive, likeable, heroic character.  Should I be cheering for Billy Flynn, the sleazy lawyer who defends guilty, murderous women using “Razzle Dazzle?”  There’s a message here that’s intended to be communicated in all sorts of artsy glory by this lack of positive characters — something about how we’re all lying, cheating, self-serving sociopaths. Screw that.  The last thing I want to be reminded by 2 hours of escapist theatre is that I’m a terrible person.  I go to plays to forget that for a short time.

Fortunately, the unsavory lot of characters is redeemed by a wardrobe of skimpy, sexy costumes, hot bodies, and slutty dancing. Message:  it’s okay to be bad if you’re hot.  Damn right.  If there’s one thing that an audience full of miscreants and sociopaths enjoys, it’s some cheesecake T&A.

This production was enjoyable.  The chorus, costumes, and choreography were fantastic, and the orchestra impressive.  Roxie was cast well. Amos stole the show (as he should) with Mr. Cellophane.  The apparently famous person playing Billy Flynn owned the character, and the unique inclusion of the orchestra conductor as a character with comic lines proved a pleasant addition.

However, there were problems as well.  Velma was cast poorly with an actress who required scenes, songs, and choreography to be watered-down to her lackluster skills.  Duets between Roxie and Velma underscored Velma’s deficiencies.  Matron Mama Morton didn’t move around much.  The reduction of the jury in the trial scene to a solo, lecherous, handsie pervert was confusing and ill-conceived, as was the choice to drastically alter the ending of Act 2, leaving the audience wondering why in the world Velma was out of prison and collaborating with Roxie on stage.  I don’t think I’m crazy to think that the whole fake diary arc is pretty important, but it was entirely missing.

Why does every jackass who re-stages a play have to leave their own detracting puddle of pee to mark their ownership?  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show.  I wish I would have enjoyed it more.

Jen’s view:

I adore the musical production of Chicago.  It is a fantasy story set in an over-the-top dream-like state.  Murderous women are so common they barely have a moment in the spotlight before the next hot killer comes along.  Roxie is a rare case that involves any detective work at all, but quite immediately her lie is uncovered and she goes to jail.  In the end Roxie is rewarded for her crime, divorced from her boring husband, acquitted from her crime, and part of a famous jazz duo.  She is a horrible person that no one would actually cheer for in real life.  But this is Chicago, it is absurd.

For this production, Roxie was fantastic, the best actress that I have ever seen for this role.  Amos and Billy Flynn were also excellent casting.  Mama Morton was bland by any comparison, except Velma who was simply out classed and out performed by everyone else.  It is a shame Velma was cast so poorly, she is (usually) my favorite character.

The Bob Fosse choreographed routines and the relatable songs have me singing and dancing in my chair.  Many women can empathize with the ladies of of Cell Block Tango.  I especially like the line “he ran into my knife”.  These women are not portrayed as psycho, just regular women that snapped.  If Velma’s case had gone to trial, would she be acquitted as justifiable homicide?

Jack and I had multiple conversations about the plot, trying to determine who is the hero.  Frankly, there is not a clear answer.  Everyone is pretty rotten, except for Amos, who is punished for being gullible and not very smart.  I did a bit of digging and learned that the original Chicago Play from 1926 was quite loosely based on two unrelated murdering women, both acquitted.  The play was written as satire, but the musical is less cynical and pushes the character ridicule into the celebrity forgiveness camp.

I have mixed emotions about Chicago now.  It is entertaining as a story of fantasy, with great dancing and catchy songs.  Learning the back story of the original play has resulted in several thought provoking conversations about heroes and second degree murder. Despite the poor performances & pathetic rewrite of the second act, a week later I am still discussing the show.  I am still discussing the characters motive and behaviors.  I still think Roxie is a horrible person.  And I think that is what the Play’s author Maurine Dallas Watkins was trying to achieve.

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