In the summer of 1977, the hit musical “Chicago” shut down on Broadway and came to The Muny. It starred Ann Reinking, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach. St. Louis had never seen anything quite like it. It was the success of that season and has had people talking for years.
Now, finally, in 2012, “Chicago” has returned looking larger, brighter, a little younger and just as intoxicating. It still has that devilish charm and saucy, sexy veneer that makes an audience feel energized and beguiled.
With a brassy 14 piece orchestra onstage amidst a large, wide multi-level nightclub set, “Chicago” immediately has the look of a very good time.
Set in the roaring 20s, “Chicago” is about a group of women being held in the Cook County Jail for murdering their loved ones, and in some cases, their husbands. The love birds turned jail birds are cared for by the crafty Mama Morton, a woman to whom the term kickbacks is a religion. Morton is played by Jackie Hoffman.
Leading the cast are Natascia Diaz as Velma Kelly and Patti Murin as Roxie Hart, two of the jail’s more talented residents. The murders they’re accused of make them darlings of the press and have the girls anticipating a career in show business after they beat their charges. You see, their attorney, Billy Flynn, played in this company by the dapper Justin Guarini, is famous for getting his female clients freed from their felony charges.
Diaz and Murin are a perfect pair for this show. Diaz’s number “All that Jazz” starts off the production and is important in setting the right tone. There’s a real passion in the way Diaz approaches her character, and it imbues her work with a provocative dance, dash and drive that make you forget she’s playing anyone but herself. It’s remarkable performance.
Patti Murin as Roxie Hart is the more juvenile and flippant of the two lead characters, and from her blonde hair to her glimmering shoes, she’s the ideal girl with a big lesson to learn. Murin gives Roxie more energy than brains, and it’s very appealing.
The Muny’s return to “Chicago” is a very welcome sight. On opening night, their were some miscues, mostly in Act I, on light and sound cues, a common problem for a show this technically complicated.
I wondered as the overture played if somewhere the spirit of Jerry Orbach was looking down on the audience and asking, “Is everybody here? Is everybody ready?”
Yes, they were.