The most seductive thing in Chicago The Musical, a satirical show about fame and scandal, is the Fosse-styled dancing.
It looks simple, but few get it right. Articulated hands with splayed fingers drip invisible rain. Legs turn out and the torso tips back. Hips swivel and teacup hands hold a hat. The dances are irresistibly sexy and groovy.
The excellent cast of Chicago at Moonlight Amphitheater is giving “the ‘ol razzle dazzle” in 23 musical numbers through Sept. 29, and it’d be a crime to miss it. Their seductive joy helps to balance a dark story of two women on trial for murder and their obsession with fame.
Chicago won six Tony Awards and a Grammy, and it has aged well. The Kander & Ebb score and dark book satirizing the prison system and our obsession with criminal celebrities are brilliant.
And yes, it’s based on a true story.
Chicago reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who covered the trials of two unrepentant women in 1924, turned her reports into a popular play. That inspired a silent film, more films, and the award-winning musical revivals we know as Chicago, one of the longest running Broadway shows.
Moonlight’s production, co-directed by Terra C. MacLeod and James Vasquez, is Broadway caliber. Its satirical sting has extra relevance given the current political climate, gun violence, cable TV, reality TV, and–need I go on?
Keeping the cast names and their history in order will make your head spin, so try to keep up.
The 12-piece orchestra, led by Kenneth Gammie, plays from multi-tiered risers. Their instruments gleam and sound swell. Drum beats are almost whispery, and the brass sounds tinny, as you’d expect of jazz in the 1920s. Under the stars outdoors, one can’t help but tap feet and whisper along to the opening number, “All That Jazz.”
Co-director Ms. MacLeod also stars as the merry murderess Roxie Hart. The red-haired starlet shoots her lover and hires sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn, played by a dashing and convincing David Engel.
Moonlight fans will remember that Engel played Harold Hill in The Music Man and Gomez in The Addams Family. MacLeod also portrayed Morticia opposite his Gomez. The two have history and smart chemistry that sparkles on stage.
They are complimented by Roxane Carrasco as Velma, the other killer who competes with Roxie for a solo show. When she hears Roxie is pregnant, she grumbles and slogs like a bear. When scheming and arguing, there are flashes of the comic duo Lucy and Ethel who always screw things up.
In the tricky overlapping duet “My Own Best Friend,” Carrasco’s deeper rasp joins and contrasts with MacLeod’s higher pitched Roxie.
There are several smart and physically demanding duets, such as “We Both Reached for the Gun,” when Roxie reenacts the murder of her lover. It’s a ventriloquist act with lawyer Billy coaching her with a new version of the truth that will make her a star, as she mouths the words.
“In All I Care About is Love,” women surround Billy with giant feather fans until he becomes a giant narcissistic flower with his head in the center.
Deep voiced Regina LeVert has a commanding presence as Mamma Morton of the prison. Singing in falsetto, Elle J. Jacobs has a funny reveal as the quivering columnist Mary Sunshine, fashioned after Watkins who wrote the original play.
Considering the grim storyline, there’s plenty of humor woven into the musical. Still, this is an adult show of the best kind.
When Chicago was in early rehearsals, some lyrics were considered too frisky. It’s been reported that Bob Fosse drew the moral line in the song “Class” for Velma and Mama Morton. “Every guy is a snot/Every girl is a twat” was cut; lines about pain in the ass and gas stayed in. “Razzle Dazzle” was first staged as an orgy on the courthouse steps. That was switched to split lifts, growls and clawing hands.
Compared to many plays, the language and plot in Chicago are tame. Roxie recreates shooting her boyfriend with a toy gun. She shouts “I have to pee.” The song about hanging and killing someone because “he had it coming” is howling fun. I mean, bloody hell, the guy was popping his gum. There are also moments when deceit and cruelty hit hard.
Prepare for a good cry when Randall Hickman appears as Amos Hart, Roxie’s gullible nobody husband.
Hickman is a legend at Moonlight, with a range of roles from the Frankenstein monster to Ursulla in The Little Mermaid. Hickman won a Best Featured Actor award from the San Diego Theatre Critics for his outrageous octopus role, and he deserves another for his portrayal of Amos.
When he pleads for Roxie to return to him and offers to care for her baby, we want to give him a warning and a hug. He breaks hearts as he sings “Mr. Cellophane.” Twisting his body and looking out into the adoring crowd, he sings for everyone who feels cheated and unappreciated.
The athletic cast shimmies in a fabulous array of black barely-there trunks and fishnets. Costumes, in Fosse tradition, are styled by Roz Lehman and Renetta Lloyd. Choreography is by Corey Wright.
Other than the orchestra’s vertical shelving there is little to no set. The excellent ensemble plays chorus, reporters, paparazzi, and a lone juror.
Watch for the multi-personality juror Jacob Narcy as he responds to testimony with hilarious expression. He captures a gnarly surfer dude with aplomb.
Chicago runs Sept. 12-29, 2018, and closes the 38th Summer Season at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. www.moonlightstage.com 760-742-2110.