The sultry, longest-running American musical, "Chicago," is in town for a short run, presented by RBTL. With a plot that circles around women who have invariably killed their ex-partners, an edgy tone is implied. Ensemble cast members wear all-black fishnets and low-cut leather shirts, even when they shift between roles of murderesses, reporters, and everyday Chicagoans. The protagonist — or perhaps antagonist — Roxie Hart (played by Dylis Croman) murders her lover, with whom she cheated on her husband. She sings, "I went fooling around and screwing around — that's fooling around without dinner!" prompting hearty laughs from the audience. Roxie repeatedly weasels her way out of sticky situations by using her charm and looks, as do nearly all of the other women convicts.
Overall, people either emphatically love or vehemently hate musicals. And for those who haven't yet seen a live musical, here are a few things you should know about this version of "Chicago."
There are few and brief breaks between the musical numbers. The cast snaps and pantomimes jazz hands even during normal dialogue, and audience participation in clapping and snapping is welcomed and encouraged. For those who want a fun and even silly experience, "Chicago" is absolutely the setting to have a glass of wine and laugh. The choreography, however, is quite limited and might be better described as gestural and slow with a few swing bits.
The orchestra, led by conductor Andrew Bryan, is the centerpiece of this iteration of the musical. From piano to tuba and accordion, the musicians play all of John Kander's classic jazz-influenced tunes ("All that Jazz," "Razzle Dazzle") as well as the sound effects. Stationed in a tiered set, the orchestra takes up approximately two thirds of the stage, and the actors perform in front of and at times on the tier. Other stage props are noticeably limited, and include a tall ladder that the occasional actor climbs. The minimalist stage design (and the uniformity of the all-black costumes) at times makes the settings difficult to decipher — are we in someone's home or back at the jail?
Taking place in the mid-1920s, the story is reminiscent of slapstick, Lucille Ball-esque comedy. While the tone initially comes off as humorous and edgily amoral, the second act heavily criticizes the debauchery of the town, and specifically younger generations. In fact, what makes the musical particularly interesting is considering what might have shocked audiences in 1975 when it debuted, versus what shocks us today.
The over-sensationalized revelation that reporter Mary Sunshine (played by D. Ratell) is, in fact, a man, seems outdated and out-of-touch in 2019. As does portraying women as corrupt, unthinking, and solely reliant upon their sex appeal (or sexual favors). For a show that aims to scandalize its audience, the punch lines are less clever and perhaps more stereotypical from today's perspective.
But overall, "Chicago" is a fun musical. It's made for audiences to sing and snap along, revel in the full experience of the live music, and have a reason to laugh in the middle of a dreary winter.