Chicago

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater
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The Chicago most theater aficionados think of when they consider that benchmark musical of the Me Generation had its Broadway premiere in June of 1975. With a book by Bob Fosse (who also directed and choreographed the show), music by Fred Ebb, and lyrics by John Kander, that original production ran at the 46th Street Theatre for nearly 1,000 performances. In 1996, Chicago had a Broadway revival, and now holds the record as the longest-running musical revival in the history of The Great White Way (and it’s still playing).

What many theatergoers may not know is that Chicago, the musical, is based on the non-musical play of the same title. That script was written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Watkins was the journalist who covered the two separate but equally publicized true-life trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaetner.

Inspired by those early 20th Century crimes, Chicago, the musical, underscores the ephemeral nature of celebrity and the sensationalism that can accompany a capital offense. In 2002, the Tony Award-winning stage musical was translated into an Oscar-winning film (by Director Rob Marshall).

Luckily, for So Cal audiences Chicago, the musical, is currently live in The OC (through July 3) at Fullerton’s marvelous Maverick Theater. Handily directed by Curtis Jerome and Brian Newell, with fine Fosse-like choreography by Jerome (who also designed the dazzling costumes), this “Chicago” packs sixteen performers onto a proscenium stage (set design by Jerome and Newell) that is, to say the least, up close and often in the audience.

What’s more, under conductor Benjamin Sagan, a nine piece band pleasingly blasts out eleven remarkable musical numbers in act one—including that signature Fosse tune, “All That Jazz.” Act two consists of nine more melodies—the melancholy “Mr. Cellophane” is a standout here (sung movingly by Eric Goldstein as Amos) — that are delivered with energy and efficiency by both the musicians and cast members.

An emcee (the appropriately stone-faced Michael Keeney) serves as our guide through this circus of justice. But the narrative is inventively carried by Fosse’s dialog, and the story flows agreeably on top of Kander and Ebb’s music and lyrics. Indeed, song and dance routines such as “When You’re Good to Mama” (sung and danced with sturdiness and skill by Sherry Domerego as prison matron Mama Morton) and “Razzle Dazzle” (performed by Glenn Freeze in a winning portrait of unctuous attorney to the rich and infamous Billy Flynn) serve as character studies in themselves, all the while propelling the plot forward.

In a swirl of “old” media coverage, Billy Flynn is a master of image manipulation, with Roxie and Velma serving in roles created and cast by Flynn—likely a character that inspired Johnny Cochran’s unlikely strategy in the O.J. murder fiasco.

And when we say in-bed with the media, no one longs for a hook-up than nosy news reporter Mary Sunshine (a scene-snatching R.C. Sands). Seeing Flynn as her sex object clearly interferes with Miss Sunshine’s journalistic objectivity. But isn’t that to be expected? Love and lust are in any case subjective passions.

Chicago is a musical that’s best appreciated in the flesh and in real time. This Maverick effort has visceral and intimate dimensions not to be found either on Broadway or on celluloid.

Chicago continues at the Maverick Theater—110 East Walnut Avenue, Fullerton—through July 3. Show times are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays. Matinees are on Sundays at 4 p.m. For reservations, dial 714-526-7070. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.mavericktheater.com