Jazz and liquor. Sex and murder. Celebrity and greed. These are the themes that run through Kander and Ebb's iconic Prohibition-set musical Chicago, and they are celebrated with hedonistic abandon in the touring production enlivening the Lexington Opera House this weekend like a speakeasy in a dry town. This is a funny, dirty show, and the fantastic cast entertains and titillates at every turn.
As the brazen vamp Velma Kelly, Terra C. MacLeod strutted around the stage at Friday nights opening performance with astonishing dance moves and hilarious, raunchy zingers. In fulfilling Ann Reinkings choreography, based in turn on that of the original creator, legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, MacLeods legs seemed sometimes to move independently of the rest of her body, with angular, athletic precision. What's more, she found the narcissistic core of the character and energized it with her electrifying stage presence. If her voice was a little strident, it was perfectly in keeping with the cruel, abrasive, terribly modern woman she embodied so fearlessly.
Anne Horak was also sexy as sin playing the equally self-obsessed but daffier, more naïve Roxie Hart, finding contrast to MacLeod with a warmer voice and a sweeter disposition that masked an interior just as cold and cynical as Velmas. Horak also demonstrated star power by finding performance choices that differed markedly from some of the magnificent interpreters of this role throughout the shows storied nearly 40-year history, compelling attention from this reviewer who happens to have seen them all.
The big name on this stop of the tour, John OHurley as the corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn, also delivered in a big way. With all the bawdiness around him, OHurley played his depraved character with debonair urbanity, an effective foil to the two leading ladies. On a side note, it was a fun bonus to the evening that Lexington catalog clothier John Peterman, whom OHurley played on the sitcom Seinfeld, was in attendance on opening night; he took a bow of his own when introduced from the stage by Opera House director Luanne Franklin.
The secondary roles were well-cast and well-played, especially Todd Buonopane as Roxies sad-sack husband, Amos, who crooned the bittersweet song Mr. Cellophane with the charm of a bedraggled teddy bear. Carol Woods as Matron Mama Morton was also cute as she could be, but she disappointingly underplayed all the filthy jokes and entendres in her lines, whereas she should actually be the raunchiest character of all. C. Newcomer sang very beautifully as gossip columnist Mary Sunshine, but produced lovely tone at the expense of the words, which were hard to understand.
The real stars of this production, though, were the amazing, awesome, incredible men and women of the ensemble. They moved with perfect precision in the strenuous, sensual dances, and they contributed incisive characterizations of all the smaller roles with excellent singing and acting. They also exuded sexuality from every pore, every single one of them, setting the decadent story on fire with pheromones from start to finish. One audience member aptly commented that they were like snakes, beautiful and dangerous in their writhing.
The spare set, framing the proscenium in gold, and at an angle also framing the onstage bandstand in gold, worked very theatrically for the show's vaudeville songs/dances/sketches format. This imaginative austerity was echoed in the costume and lighting design. My companion at the theater described it perfectly as extravagant minimalism.
Finally, the orchestra, a touring core of musicians supplemented by local professionals, was top-notch, playing the Jazz Age musical styles with flair and dirtiness all their own.
IF YOU GO
What: National touring production of the iconic musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse presented by Broadway Live at the Opera House.
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 9; 1 and 6 p.m. Nov. 10
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $37.15-$112.15. Available at (859) 233-3535, Lexingtonoperahouse.com and Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.
Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.