Review: Broadway ‘wow’ lands in Victoria via Chicago

What: Chicago the Musical
When: Through to Dec. 23
Where: The Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
Tickets: $89 and $99
For more information: rmts.bc.ca
Rating: Four-and-a-half stars (out of five)

If there were ever a chance to see a top-notch Broadway show without the airfare to New York City, Chicago the Musical is it.

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Everything from the jazz hands and Bob Fosse dance moves to the big belting voices and spot-on casting is killer — and a treat for this theatre-loving city during the show’s run at the Royal Theatre this week .

At opening night Monday, the crowd buzzed with bubbly and plenty of Chicago-themed outfits. They wore fishnets, flapper dresses, bow ties and lots of red and black. Even Premier John Horgan sported the signature Chicago colours on his tie.

The show is one of the longest running musicals in history and was made into an Oscar-winning film for good reason.

The storyline is delightfully macabre. Six murderesses are desperate to exploit their crimes for fame. Written in 1926 by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, the satire on corruption and media still cuts.

It was relevant when the play was written and when it was staged as a musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Fosse in the 1970s, as well as in the Broadway revival in the 1990s and still today — though the modern equivalent to being front page news is now more likely to be “gone viral” online.

The musical numbers are infectious and stunning, rooted in jazz and the sultry Fosse style — with black lingerie and bowler hats, rolled shoulder shrugs and struck poses.

What is surprising about this version of Chicago — which remains largely the same as the original — is how funny it is. The cast of Chicago veterans are at home and playful in their roles — milking the dark humour and punch-line pauses.

The audience ate it up, with hoots and hollers and the kind of roaring applause that gives a performance added life.

The highlight of the show is Dylis Croman in the role of Roxie Hart. It’s rare to see a performer so immersed in a character that every gesture and movement is magnetic. Croman brings out a playful and devious Roxie with such expertise and joy it feels as if the role was destined for her.

And in a way it was: Croman was mentored by the two most-legendary Roxies — Gwen Verdon, the originator and Fosse’s wife and muse, as well as Ann Reinking, who redefined the role in the 1996 Broadway revival.

In many ways, this cast surpasses the stars in the 2002 film version. Jeff McCarthy is brilliant as the sleazy silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn. His ventriloquist number, We Both Reached for the Gun, with Croman and company, is thrilling physical comedy.

The set is small and sparse, putting more pressure on every person on stage to razzle dazzle ’em. This includes the musicians, who are presented in a tiered bandstand — with several local players sitting in.

Other standouts include Jennifer Fouché as a cheeky powerhouse Matron “Mama” Morton. Paul Vogt is perfect as the sad-sack husband Amos Hart, though his performance of heartbreaking Mr. Cellophane was not quite as sweet as John C. Reilly’s film version.

Lana Gordon is tireless as Velma Kelly and has excellent chemistry with Croman. Their duet, My Own Best Friend, is an anthem to sister power and a blowout finale to the show — helped in no small part by the massive glittering tinsel curtain backdrop.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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