“Chicago” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ September 21, 2015


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

”Razzle Dazzle” is a telling “Chicago” song that sums up the elaborate, splashy, and well performed Phoenix Theatre production of the 1975 musical hit that continues to be a huge New York money maker today in the 1996 revival that is one of the most successful and profitable shows in Broadway history.

While the PT production entertains mightily in an eye-filling Michael Barnard staging that never flags for a moment as it generates energy, sparkle, and pizzazz, the staging falters on one small but significant detail that keeps this near-perfect “Chicago” from being a flawless smash.

The show traces the lively competition between two entertaining murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.  These loose women with no morals will do anything for bucks.  When the pair attracts too many men, they just kill off any extra men hanging around.  Sent to a prison headed by Matron Mama Morton, the pair must do time for their murders but corruption makes the stay anything but tough.  Add vagabond lawyer Billy Flynn who will defend any prisoner for vast sums of money, as Velma and Roxie craft glorious vaudeville numbers that beguile and charm fellow prisoners.

Where the PT production veers from perfection, is that audiences must love Velma and Roxie and while Kate E. Cook’s long-legged Roxie is sung and danced almost as well as Broadway legend Gwen Verdon did in her final Broadway role, and Jenny Hintze’s even better danced and superbly sung Velma rivals Chita Rivera’s original interpretation, neither actress makes audiences care about these characters as the two original performers did so carefully.  For the show to truly dazzle, you must adore and admire these bizarre women.

Everything else about Barnard’s production looks flawless as he remounts his successful 2003 Phoenix Theatre production.  Barnard even brings back Greg Jaye’s original scenic concept complete with several revolves that keeps the action crisp and concise.  Cari Smith adds some wonderfully flouncy costumes recreating the late 1920s period lushly.  Sam Hay’s snappy choreography is heavily inspired by Bob Fosse’s original production, Alan Ruch’s jazzy orchestra is perfect (although why a live production has the orchestra hidden in a room away from the stage is strangely inappropriate), and Dave Temby’s superlative sound design allows none of the witty and clever dialogue to get lost.

But this production’s phenomenal success is attributable to Barnard’s brilliant staging that makes the show entertain with remarkable sparkle.  With the exception of Walter Belcher’s miscasting as shyster lawyer Billy Flynn, and Terey Summers bland Mama Morton, the rest of the company is filled with snappy singers and dynamic dancers.

“Chicago” continues through October 4.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A