Scene takes a look at `Chicago — the Razzle Dazzle Broadway Musical,' playing in downtown South Bend this weekend
By BRIAN SEAMAN
Scene Theater Writer
It's got the makings of an evening the Catholic Church would condemn. It's got voluptuous women in costumes akin to late-night lingerie. It's got a simulated orgy combining these women and ultra-muscular men. It's got seven murders, an execution and a ton of sex.
Oh yeah, and it's a musical.
Combining all the elements of pure show biz flash, "Chicago — the Razzle Dazzle Broadway Musical" slinks its way onto the stage of the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend for three performances this weekend.
Originally written in 1975 by the master Broadway songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, "Chicago" tells the cynical tale of Roxie Hart, a nightclub dancer who kills her lover in a jealous rage. She then dupes the public and media by hiring Chicago's shrewdest lawyer, who ultimately turns her crime into celebrity headlines and gets her acquitted.
The plot line, seemingly ripped from today's headlines, appears to be more timely and fitting to a media-obsessed society than it was when originally produced in 1975.
Riding the coattails of celebrity criminals such as O.J. Simpson, the revival of "Chicago" on Broadway has tightened the plot to fit these modern precedents with hilarity.
This shift in public attention seems to have benefited the Broadway production and touring companies of "Chicago," now in their fourth year and still playing to enthusiastic packed audiences.
Roxanne Carrasco and Tracy Shayne, the stars of the touring company arriving in South Bend this weekend, hope the reaction will be similar here.
"This show is exactly what an audience is looking for," said Carrasco, who plays Velma Kelly, Roxie's murderous competitor for headlines. "It is witty, exciting and most of all, very sexy. It isn't like anything on Broadway right now."
When revived in 1996, "Chicago" was staged as a concert of sorts, a three-night event with high profile stars and minimal distractions from elaborate sets or costumes.
While this concert was fully staged and choreographed, the physical set was little more than a rectangular band shell center stage, a small staircase and a dozen or so black chairs. The orchestra was in full view of the audience, thus adding to the theatricality of the evening.
The costumes, while stunning in their own way, were once again minimal. Women wore an amalgamation of black negligee, slips and bikinis, all spiced together with fishnet stockings and black high heels. The men were substantially more clothed but still, little was left to the imagination.
Even though the concert was conceived to run for only a weekend, the response was so tremendous that the musical transferred to Broadway for an extended run in nearly the exact form as the concert version.
The touring company of "Chicago," arriving in South Bend this weekend, is fundamentally identical to its Broadway sister yet with several unique elements added for this production.
Shayne, who plays Roxie Hart, the murderous main character, suggests this uniqueness is what makes "Chicago" so engrossing.
"This company is truly a big family, and with us traveling around and living together everywhere we go, that comes out on stage," she said. "We are all playing pumped up versions of ourselves."
Relatively new to the show, after playing leading roles in "Les Miserables," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "A Chorus Line," Shayne speaks of the electric camaraderie between her and co-star Carrasco, despite the warring and conniving ways of the characters they play.
"It is like we are sisters; we call each other `sister girlfriend' and have the times of our lives out there on stage," she said. "Acting with great friends while playing a dream role ... what more could you ask for."
Besides the extremely tight-fitting and revealing costumes, the actresses recommend college students to attend for many other reasons.
"College students who have come to `Chicago' before can tell you that this show is fun, fast paced and very adult," said Shayne. "This musical involves the audience the whole way through and is filled with that sexy Fosse choreography which is so hot today."
Hot is definitely one way to describe "Chicago," and it is a rare opportunity that South Bend receives a production of this caliber and popularity. Tickets are as cheap as $20 (before student discount) and the show promises to provide the same evening of "drop-dead" entertainment as the Broadway production.
The leading actresses recommend the show using a scene from the opening number. The stage is filled with a very sexy chorus of dancers inviting the audience to listen up, singing "Come on, babe, why don't we paint the town? And all that jazz."
Following that opening number and the evening of high gloss and adult entertainment that follows, it seems the question should rather be "Why not?" "Chicago — the Musical" is a rare theater treat for South Bend, and if its worldwide sensation is any judge for this town, the show is sure to be an evening well spent.
All Scene Stories for Friday, March 3, 2000