Encore Michigan

‘Chicago’ is fine and dandy at The Fisher

Guest Review October 17, 2018

By Casaundra Freeman

DETROIT, MICH.–If you want a fine evening at the theatre, Chicago (playing at the Fisher Theatre from Oct. 16- 21) gets the job done.

Anticipation was in the air. You could feel it.

As people filed into the theatre, echoes and whispers, about what the evening’s performance of Chicago (the longest running American musical) would be. It had been a long time since I’d seen this show onstage. And as I nestled into my seat in the sparsely populated theatre on opening night from the sound of things, I realized it had been a long time since my row mates had seen it as well. All of us were teeming with anticipation waiting to be overwhelmed with the performances ahead.

A lone chair decorated with a man’s fedora and illuminated with a single spotlight waited patiently for the curtain to be drawn.

The curtain went up and the massive Chicago bandstand occupying the greater part of the stage was revealed.

Before you knew it all of the tunes that make Chicago the award-winning machine it has become, were gliding through the air. The stage abounded with triple threats and multi-hyphenates whose bodies could have easily been sculpted by Michelangelo himself. The signature all-black and scanty costumes would allow the nimble cast to move with ease between musical numbers. The multi-faceted tale of justice, injustice, corruption, sex and murder would unfold with immense skill allowing the audience to effortlessly learn of the misguided ambitions of the women in the Cook County Jail. Interestingly enough, the minimalist approach of the scenic and costume design made the inmates tales of woe easily transferable from late 1920s Chicago to present-day anywhere, U.S.A

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be comforted with the cast’s handling of each musical number. From the signature Fosse jazz-hands wiggling about on “All that Jazz,” to the endearing nature of “Mr. Cellophane,” with this viewer’s personal favorite “Cell Block Tango” in between, there was an overriding sense that this creative team, knows this show well. Very well.

But maybe a little too well.

The entire evening the production seemed a bit stifled. The songs–while beautifully handled, and the kicks while remarkably high–lacked energy and enthusiasm. In the spirit of full disclosure, musicals are not my go-to for entertainment. I prefer dramas. But if there is a musical that I love, and would and have traveled long distances to see, Chicago is it.

Perhaps the limitations of moving such a massive production from city to city in very short amounts of time was the cause, but I genuinely felt the production value left much to be desired. The curtain went up far too quickly going into the second act, leaving the audience to watch the band as they watched us, as we all just sat there waiting for the second act to officially begin. It was odd. Then, because the curtain was opened seemingly prematurely, audience members sitting close to the stage, were able to see Terra Macleod (Velma Kelly), ascend a ladder in the wing on the right-hand side of the stage, an act that seemed to have been choreographed to keep her ascension of the stairs masked.

Finally, at the end of the show, artificial flowers were thrown into the crowd of what was supposed to represent the lead characters’ sharing gifts of appreciation with their adoring fans. With all the money this show has made and all of the aforementioned awards it has garnered, it seems real flowers could have been used.

Despite those technical hiccups, Macleod smoldered and sauntered about the stage as the ever confident Kelly. Todrick Hall, who was the sole reason some of the people I overheard conversing about the show, came to see it, was fine as Billy Flynn, the silver tongued, quick witted defense attorney to many of the women of the Cook County Jail.

Dylis Croman with her bubbly exuberance breathed life into the naïve but devastatingly cunning lead character, Roxie Hart. D. Ratell’s gripping command of Mary Sunshine, was the other standout performance of the evening. Everything else was fine. Just fine. The Lighting Design by Ken Billington was fine. The scenic design with its minimalistic approach, using a few chairs here and there to cover the various locations of the scenes, was also fine. The remaining ensemble members not previously mentioned were fine as well.

People left the theatre perhaps not overwhelmed with the production, but satisfied. If perhaps you want an evening full of familiar tunes from a show that proves why it is still holding an audience’s attention all these years later, stop by the Fisher Theatre to catch Chicago, running until October 21. Your evening will be…just fine.

Casaundra Freeman is a Detroit-based actor and director, and Wilde Award winner.

Week of 2/18/2019

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