By Manning Harris
Atlanta Lyric Theatre is currently holding forth with a red-hot, snazzy version of the musical “Chicago,” directed by Brandt Blocker, running through Nov. 9.
With music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, the original Broadway show was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. It opened in 1975; unfortunately for “Chicago,” so did a little phenomenon called “A Chorus Line,” which clobbered it in ticket sales and at the Tony Awards.
But “Chicago” was evidently a little ahead of its time, because it was revived on Broadway in 1996 and is still running—the longest running revival ever, and the longest running American musical in Broadway history.
A very popular award-winning movie version was released in 2002.
The original 1975 production is called “a musical vaudeville” and is set in the roaring 20’s; that’s the version that the Lyric is performing, and it really “gives ’em the old razzle dazzle,” as one of the songs says.
It seems that in the 1920’s Chicago became riveted by the subject of homicides committed by women (this really happened, folks): women killing their lovers or husbands. The tabloid press had a field day with all this. Some of the public thought them innocent, and some guilty—but the women became celebrities.
And there were no bigger celebrities than “Chicago’s” merry murderesses Velma Kelly (Deborah Bowman) and Roxie Hart (Liberty Cogen). The two women are rival cell-mates who discover that “they simply cannot do it alone.” To avoid conviction they hire Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn (Alan Kilpatrick), who glories in his own sleaziness.
The dark wit and cynical, satiric tone may take you by surprise, but folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet, as vaudevillian Jimmy Durante used to say. Some of the songs: “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” “All I Care About,” “Class,” and others.
The show is outrageous, hilarious, completely irreverent, and totally theatrical; the audience loved it. The orchestra is upstage and raised; they’re also polished and fine, conducted by Mr. Blocker, who gets to act a bit—and very well! Bill Walker’s set is simple, stylish, and perfect: both ends remind me of burnished gun barrels.
Superb Fosse-inspired choreography by Karen Hebert; music direction by Bill Newberry; sound design is by Bobby Johnston, who’s a master at his craft.
The cast is first-rate, with impressive Broadway and other professional credits. I can’t say too much about Ms. Bowman’s Velma or Ms. Cogen’s Roxie; they more than hold their own with anyone who’s played these roles, and I saw the originals: Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon (I’m that old).
Mr. Kilpatrick’s Billy Flynn is amoral and magnetic; Ingrid Cole’s “Mama” Morton is brilliant. I cannot visualize luckless Amos (“Mr. Cellophane”) played any better than Glenn Rainey’s performance.
Haden Rider is Maria Callas in a mad scene as the insanely optimistic Mary Sunshine. It’s nice to see Bryan Brendle, always excellent, on the Lyric stage.
I wish I could name all the dancers/singers, for they are electric, with flawless sound.
I hope you realize that Atlanta Lyric has become a true powerhouse in Atlanta musical theatre; “Chicago” is almost sold out. Call or go online immediately for tickets.
For tickets and information, visit atlantalyrictheatre.com.