If murdering vixens, devious lawyers and scantily clad prison gals all set to a scorching jazz soundtrack is your idea of a good time, then “Chicago” is just the musical for you.
Playing through Sunday at Salt Lake City’s Capitol Theatre, the national touring company of the Broadway hit is sultry, sexy, funny and filthy.
Set in the ’20s and based on a semi-true story, “Chicago” is about a couple of murderesses: Velma Kelly (Donna Marie Asbury), a vaudeville performer who killed her husband and sister after catching them, uh, together; and Roxie Hart, a would-be performer who killed her lover after he threatened to walk out on her. These are not particularly wholesome gals, nor are their fellow inmates in the Cook County Prison — but as they all sing their “Cell Block Tango” and tell of how they killed their various partners (“They had it comin'” is a recurring motif), we lighten up a bit and take this for what it is: very dark humor performed by very talented actresses. (One of them tells her story and ends with: “I took the shotgun off the wall and fired two warning shots — into his head.” Another mentions pouring her husband a drink, then says, “Some people just can’t hold their arsenic.” Laugh! It’s funny!)
Sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn (Brent Barrett) comes on the scene then. He has made Velma into the murderess-of-the-week, adored by the press, and the prison matron “Mama” (Avery Sommers) — who sings “When You’re Good to Mama” with as much soul and skill as any professional actress we’ve seen recently — has already arranged for Velma to hit the vaudeville circuit again, once she’s acquitted.
Unfortunately for Velma, new kid on the cell block Roxie starts to steal her thunder, and her publicity. Roxie tells more and more lies to win the public’s support, aided and abetted by Flynn. This leads to one of the most amazing scenes in the show: Roxie sits on Flynn’s lap and acts like a ventriloquist’s dummy — even mouthing the words — as Flynn sings to reporters. He is quite literally putting the words in her mouth, and not only is the scene very funny, it’s also stunningly choreographed.
“Chicago” is stylistic, not realistic. Set pieces consist usually of just a few chairs, and the bit parts are played by men and women dressed mostly in tight black outfits — one guy plays both a police officer and Roxie’s imaginary boy toy, all without changing outfits. People tend to slink and slither rather than walk, and even some of the dancing is choreographed to appear improvised — just like good jazz is.
Plot and characterization take a willing backseat to style, hot jazz music and incredible dancing, not to mention some solid physical comedy. The actresses are gleefully unashamed to fling themselves around in whatever manner is necessary in order to get a laugh, though they still seem very cool in doing it. In fact, that’s what makes much of the show so funny: the performers are so committed and professional that when one of them bends over backwards (literally) for a laugh, we can’t believe she’s actually doing something so absurd. We expect absurdity in our TV sitcoms and our high school farces — not in our slick, well-produced Broadway musicals.
But absurdity abounds, accompanied by skillful singing, dancing and merriment, making “Chicago” a thoroughly entertaining piece of work — a guilty pleasure, to be sure, but a pleasure nonetheless.
The best perk of seeing this show? The promoters sent us, along with the tickets, a copy of the show's soundtrack. So now I can listen to that hot jazz stuff whenever I want.
Before the show, we wanted to eat somewhere, and we accidentally wandered into a restaurant that was very expensive. It's called Bocci's, and I'm told that if I mention I've eaten there, many people will be impressed. I don't know why they should be, though. It was way over-priced. By the time we realized that, though, they'd already brought us drinks and bread, and we couldn't very well walk out then. So we ate there, and it was pretty good, but not worth the money it cost us. Let that be a lesson to you: Investigate before you go someplace to eat.