The Fox Kicks Off Fall Season With Breezy 'Chicago'

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

“Chicago” blew into The Fabulous Fox Theatre over the weekend in a gust of murder, avarice, double-dealing, infidelity and betrayal. The breezy musical’s spot-on Fosse choreography, stellar performances—including stars John O’Hurley and Paige Davis—and its outstanding score by Kander and Ebb, made for a captivating, satisfying evening of theater. Based on true stories from the prohibition era, “Chicago” is a smooth, sexy cocktail distilled from a world of bathtub gin.

“Chicago” blew into The Fox over the weekend in a gust of murder, avarice, double-dealing, infidelity and betrayal. The breezy musical's spot-on Fosse choreography, stellar performances—including stars John O'Hurley and Paige Davis—and its outstanding score by Kander and Ebb, made for a captivating, satisfying evening of theater. Based on true stories from the prohibition era, “Chicago” is a smooth sexy cocktail distilled from a world of bathtub gin.   Bob Fosse created the musical based on a 1926 play of the same name written by Chicago Tribune writer Maurine Dallas Watkins, whose amusing, bitter reportage held a magnifying glass to the farcical legal proceedings in the murder trials of two comely “jazz babies.” The two suspected murderesses claimed the Twinkie defense of its day—moral corruption by men and liquor. The play, like the musical that followed, is a satire against celebrity criminals and the relentless, ends-justifies-the-means pursuit of fame.   The musical numbers—with Fosse's signature style and brassy orchestra arrangements—consist of one stunner after another, such as “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango” and “When You're Good to Mama.” The show requires performers who can pull it off, and this cast does—with aplomb. It's no wonder. The multi-talented actors playing the three lead characters have all performed their roles in numerous productions and national tours.  Paige Davis—who rose to semi-fame as the perky, amenable host of “Trading Spaces,” the television series that elevated home makeover shows from the backwaters of cable to prime time fare—plays Roxy Hart with style, grace and more than a little sex appeal. She's got skills. Actor, singer, dancer. When she sings “Funny Honey,” about hubby Amos taking the rap in her stead for her murdering “an intruder,” it's beautiful and tender—never mind she's singing about what a sap he is. When Amos gets wise that the stiff was not an intruder but Roxy's lover, he withdraws his false confession and Roxy goes to the slammer.   None too happy to see her on the cell block is current star murderess and femme fatale,Velma Kelly, played by Terra C. MacLeod. Velma is the harder of the two. Cold and calculating, she knows how the world is tuned and plays it like a maestro. In her song “When Velma Takes the Stand,” MacLeod skillfully demonstrates how she'll manipulate the jury—using sex appeal, histrionics and girlish tears. Who could resist her? MacLeod's performance is a comedic delight.   John O'Hurley—best known as J. Peterman on the television show Seinfeld—is slick as “the silver-tongued Prince of the courtroom, the one, the only, Billy Flynn!” O'Hurley glides onto the stage, all confidence and charisma, a smooth operator whose benevolence is bestowed on whoever's case will bring him the most fame, providing they can pay his fee. The role fits O'Hurley—a cool customer if ever there was one—as well as his sharply tailored clothes.   The remainder of the cast, and especially the chorus, do great work as well. While both Davis and Macleod are impressive in their dance abilities, they were oddly out of sync during their flapper finale. It's a small annoyance only—the end of the show has always seemed anti-climatic anyway, like an afterthought that doesn't quite fit with the show that preceded it. Nevertheless, the show is a tasty treat.    “Chicago” kicks off the Fox's fall season in fine form, and it's the first show under the newly refurbished ceiling. It's true, the little gems embedded there now gleam and sparkle. Meanwhile, on the stage there was a different kind of gem, and it too sparkled.

The chorus of Chicago demonstrate signature Bob Fosse choreography.

Bob Fosse created the musical based on a 1926 play of the same name written by Chicago Tribune writer Maurine Dallas Watkins, whose amusing, bitter reportage held a magnifying glass to the farcical legal proceedings in the murder trials of two comely “jazz babies.” The two suspected murderesses claimed the Twinkie defense of its day—moral corruption by men and liquor. The play, like the musical that followed, is a satire against celebrity criminals and the relentless, ends-justifies-the-means pursuit of fame.

The musical numbers—with Fosse’s signature style and brassy orchestra arrangements—consist of one stunner after another, such as “All That Jazz,” “Cell Block Tango” and “When You’re Good to Mama.” The show requires performers who can pull it off, and this cast does—with aplomb. The multi-talented actors playing the three lead characters have all performed their roles in numerous productions and national tours.

Paige Davis plays Roxie Hart in the current national tour of Chicago.

Paige Davis as Roxie Hart in the current national tour of Chicago. Photo: Len Prince.

Paige Davis—who rose to semi-fame as the perky, amenable host of “Trading Spaces,” the television series that elevated home makeover shows from the backwaters of cable to prime time fare—plays Roxy Hart with style, grace and more than a little sex appeal. She’s got skills. Actor, singer, dancer. When she sings “Funny Honey,” about hubby Amos taking the rap in her stead for her murdering “an intruder,” it’s beautiful and tender—never mind she’s singing about what a sap he is. When Amos gets wise that the stiff was not an intruder but Roxy’s lover, he withdraws his false confession and Roxy goes to the slammer.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly in Chicago.

Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly in Chicago. Photo by Paul Kolnik

None too happy to see her on the cell block is current star murderess and femme fatale,Velma Kelly, played by Terra C. MacLeod. Velma is the harder of the two. Cold and calculating, she knows how the world is tuned and plays it like a maestro. In her song “When Velma Takes the Stand,” MacLeod skillfully demonstrates how she’ll manipulate the jury—using sex appeal, histrionics and girlish tears. Who could resist her? MacLeod’s performance is a comedic delight.

John O’Hurley—best known as J. Peterman on the television show “Seinfeld”—is slick as “the silver-tongued Prince of the courtroom, the one, the only, Billy Flynn!” O’Hurley glides onto the stage, all confidence and charisma, a smooth operator whose benevolence is bestowed on whoever’s case will bring him the most fame, providing they can pay his fee. The role fits O’Hurley—a cool customer if ever there was one—as well as his sharply tailored clothes.

John O'Hurley  in Chicago at The Fox Theater, Sept. 20-22, 2013

John O’Hurley in Chicago at The Fox. Photo courtesy of Fox Theatre.

The remainder of the cast, and especially the chorus, do great work as well. While both Davis and MacLeod are impressive in their dance abilities, they were oddly out of sync during their flapper finale. It’s a small annoyance only—the end of the show has always seemed anti-climatic anyway, like an afterthought that doesn’t quite fit with the show that preceded it. Nevertheless, the show is a tasty treat.

“Chicago” kicks off the Fox’s fall season in fine form, and it’s the first show under the newly refurbished ceiling. It’s true, the little gems embedded there now gleam and sparkle. Meanwhile, on the stage there was a different kind of gem, and it too sparkled.

For information on the Fox Theater’s fall season please visit the website.

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