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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Broadway Boise presents Chicago

Or: The “Old Razzle Dazzle” ain’t what it used to be

From where I sat in the Morison center’s orchestra seating I was able to peer down the sides of Chicago's orchestra risers to where the ensemble sat watching the proceedings and lounging as Velma or Roxie or Amos came forward to talk to the audience. These road warriors, who have taken this broadway favorite around the country for months, perhaps years, looked dog-tired and knock-kneed but they still smiled and drummed their fingers along to the tunes and always pulled themselves up to face the music with no small amount of vigor.

Despite their enthusiasm, ensemble, musicians and principals together lacked a certain luster. Oh they managed saxophone slides and splints and tumbles with offhand aplomb but it was a threadbare aplomb, that of people who have drilled the shows choreography into their bones and are now shimming through the motions. Chicago had become a machine, a gorgeous, well-oiled machine but a machine none the less. Perhaps I’m just too used to heartfelt pieces. Chicago owes its roots to ‘20‘s vaudeville being a story illustrated and announced through number of different numbers designed to garner attention, and a laugh or two, but never our hearts.

In the show Roxie Hart (Paige Davis) and Velma Kelly (Terra C MacLeod) are two showgirls accused of two different murders. While serving time in the Cook County Jail, with other colorful murderesses, the two women vie with one another for the attention of the media (which they hope will launch their careers, if they don’t hang), under the directions of smooth lawyer Billy Flynn (Brent Barrett).

MacLeod pours her way across the stage in a lively manner, executing all sorts of tricky dance moves all the while nodding to us like a prima dona to an audience of her adoring fans. Her voice is one we have not hear in years, harkening back to old Broadway and putting us in mind of a young Carol Channing. Her partner Davis, is if anything even more malleable slipping into all sorts of chicanery. Sadly in both her voice, though clear as a bell, and her expression, though versatile as physicality, there is a lack of life. Her performance is made out silly putty, able to do anything you please but requiring outside physical force to mould it into shape.

Similarly Barrett’s lengthy turn on the road has sapped what must have been a vital performance in New York. Mr. Flynn is also the possessor of a fine voice (if he would just stop chocking the connecters in the tide pool of his mouth. Open that Jaw for crying out loud!) though his manner is less that of a wily lawyer and more of a bitter gameshow host, who has forgotten how to turn off the smarm in private conversation.

More compelling rolls belong to Matron “Mama” Morton (Carol Woods), the jailor of all the killer ladies and Amos Hart (Todd Buonopane) Roxie’s adoring but dull witted Husband. Woods matches her trumpet blast tone with suitably wry shoulder wagging and tisk-ing, while Bunopane makes his ride of joy and disappointment carry out, fresh and enthusiastic in its idiocy, all the way to the last row.

The machine grinds on but like a donut conveyor belt or a recycling plant it’s an exciting machine to watch. The energy and expression rise to appropriate levels for old favorites like “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “Me and My Baby”. The Jokes are funny, there are more than a few instances of “stage magic” to gasp at and if the company is a little strident in voice and stretched in gesture, at least they are graceful (for those who appricate that thing) and put themselves into seemingly endless combinations of suggestive possess (for those who like that). That’s vaudeville: you pour in practice and sweat and some snappy tunes and you get a show out of it, it isn’t Shakespeare but it is entertaining.

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