20 years old and she’s still got it, folks!
With the 20th Anniversary of Chicago speedily approaching, I took a trip to Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre to witness that timeless story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery… and rest assured, I still hold it near and dear to my heart!
Chicago is the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infamous Phantom, and still holds the record of being the longest-running musical revival and longest-running American musical on the Great White Way. So how has this iconic musical managed to outlast its competitors in the increasingly crowded and competitive market place that is Broadway?
One word can sum it all up, really… “Class”… which just so happens to be the title of one of the more reflective numbers in the show. As Velma and Mama Morton were serenading us, asking whatever happened to class, I couldn’t help but think that this production has it in abundance. Chicago proves that you don’t need to bombard your audience with a number of lavish sets or elaborate costume changes to put together a winning musical. All you need is a live band on stage, intoxicating the auditorium with that jazz-infused score from the genius that is John Kander and Fred Ebb and sprinkle it with that Bob Fosse-style choreography, and before you know it, you’ve razzle dazzled ‘em! Those tight-fitting, all-black (and often transparent) costumes by William Ivey Long enhance the show’s sensuality with equal measures of male and female exposure and have themselves become as recognisable as the show’s glittering red logo.
You forget how ground-breaking this revival must have been, when it officially opened on Broadway on 14th November 1996. Moments of breaking the fourth wall to introduce the musical numbers and having the conductor of the band interact with the actors on stage, still set Chicago apart from its predecessors, and who wouldn’t want to call for their “Exit Music” each time they left the room?
Chicago is equally as famous for its revolving casting door, which has seen both Broadway veterans and celebrities from the world of music, TV and film take to the stage and sink their teeth into those coveted principal roles for special limited engagements. Some of the company’s principals have been with the show for quite some time and continue to delight with every performance. NaTasha Yvette Williams’ brassy and sultry Mama Morton, Raymond Bokhour’s ever-loveable Amos and R. Lowe’s skilled, gender-bending performance as Mary Sunshine are always crowd-pleasing and essential parts of the production, offering the degree of stability that takes it smoothly through its many cast changes. Although some would argue that Chicago has been reduced to a star vehicle for celebrities wishing to dip their toes into the world of Broadway, I see it as a living, breathing piece of musical theatre history, which rightfully remains at the Ambassador Theatre and reminds us that all you need is class and, of course, all that Jazz!
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
"As much tribute as revival, the spirit of Fosse's genius never leaves the stage, and Chicago, under Walter Bobbie's sharp direction, will dazzle newcomers to the trademark Fosse dance style and provide a thrilling reminder to those who've seen it before just how smart, sexy and exciting this brand of choreography was, or rather, is."
Greg Evans for Variety
"Chicago is a triumph! It doesn't just give us the old razzle-dazzle; it glows."
Richard Zoglin for Time Magazine
"Chicago still glitters hypnotically! It remains the best adult entertainment in town and still bubbles with the joy of performing!"
Ben Brantley for New York Times (2007)
"The show seems to have discovered the fountain of youth. As entertaining as ever. Brash, buoyant and utterly irresistible!"
Michael Kuchwara for The Associated Press (2003)