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Review: “Chicago”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

A story of murder, betrayal, and capricious public opinion, “Chicago” holds the record for longest running American musical (with almost 7,000 performances and counting) – a point that Broadway Across America is using to promote the touring production visiting Austin, playting at Bass Concert Hall through Nov. 24.

So for any musical devotee, this is a show that demands to be added to their Playbill collection. For those viewers only familiar with the 2002 film version, however, this monochromatic production is likely to seem frustratingly drab.

Scantily clad in black garments and bare skin, the cast often gets lost against the (also black) orchestral risers that dominate the stage. For all the spectacle Broadway Across America typically offers, this show’s static and unexciting set leaves us waiting for a visual pay off that never comes.

Consequently, the show feels a bit tired, no matter how much we wanted to like it.

The songs seem slow, the characters hammy and the set and costumes are downright bland. “Cell Block Tango” is played for comedy, watering down the ominous satirical bite written into the book. And many of the directorial decisions are baffling – the number “Tap Dance” doesn’t include any actual tapping.

The show’s pacing is also erratic, as each of the big dance numbers is then followed by a solo number that brings the energy to a halt. So we move from fluid glitz and glam to static recitals.

When given the opportunity to dance, however, the ensemble more than proves their Broadway qualifications – gliding through challenging numbers with impressive crispness. And while this production is more about sex appeal than character development, at least it offers sufficient eye candy for anyone’s preference.

“We Both Reached For the Gun” stands out as the most noteworthy big number, and John O’Hurley delights as the unscrupulous lawyer Billy Flynn.

As the hapless cuckold Amos Hart, Todd Buonopane’s rendition of “Mister Cellophane” is one of the few solo numbers that succeeds, with Buonopane’s balloon-like swaying adding the requisite charm to keep the song visually engaging.

Sadly, when Roxie Hart (Anne Horak) and Velma kelly (Terra C. MacLeod) appear for their final duet, the boring costumes rob the number of any real pizazz – so the show fizzles out instead of ending with a bang.

“Chicago” continues through Nov. 24 at Bass Concert Hall. www.texasperformingarts.org.