“Chicago” is now playing at National Theatre in the 25th Anniversary Tour of the 1996 Broadway revival. While I was deeply impressed with the phenomenal dancers and vocalists, I was left longing for more overall razzle-dazzle in the show as a whole.
The micro-movements of the dancers and their precise isolations truly dazzle…outstanding dancers, vocalists, and musicians…
This production rests on its laurels, and make no mistake, they are well-earned laurels. The Tony Award-winning choreography by Ann Reinking, in the style of Bob Fosse, has been recreated by Gary Chryst and is spine-tingling. The micro-movements of the dancers and their precise isolations truly dazzle.
However, so many numbers lack dancing. How I wish the production team had filled in the gaps in their crown with fresh, new growth by adding choreography to every solo number. It would have elevated the show from merely good to great. For example, Mary Sunshine’s number shows off the impressive operatic vocals of G.A. James, but the melody and musical style are so far removed from the rest of the show’s jazzy numbers that it felt difficult for me to engage.
If the background had been filled with dancers interpreting Miss Sunshine’s lyrics and attitude, the number would have been absolutely captivating. James’s vocal talent would have been amplified and better appreciated; the humor of the piece would have been brought out; and we would have gotten more time with the top-notch dancers. As “Chicago” is an original Bob Fosse show (he both directed and choreographed the original 1975 production), the dancing is what we came for!
Brian Kalinowski gives an endearing performance as Amos, and his own slight choreography in “Mr. Cellophane” is beautifully rendered. How much more fun would it have been if the dancers had been performing around him, bumping into him and brushing past as they fail to notice him. Again, it would have complemented the meaning of the song. I was also disappointed that the number by Billy Flynn (Jeff Brooks) entitled “Tap Dance” lacked tap dancing. A solo dancer in the background could easily have performed during the pitter-patter dialogue.
Even more than Velma or Roxie, the true star of “Chicago” is Bob Fosse. For that reason, I wish the dancers had been showcased to their fullest potential instead of literally seated on the sidelines for much of the show. Fosse’s longtime muse Ann Reinking has sadly passed on, but I am sure that a choreographer exists who could fill in the gaps in this production in a style faithful to Fosse. I hope that one day we get to see “Chicago” wow us to the greatest extent possible.
Let’s talk about the amazing Logan Floyd as Velma Kelly, though, because they were fantastic. They gave me such Liza Minnelli vibes, both with their rich singing voice and in Velma’s diva attitude, but in a way that felt authentic rather than an imitation. Small wonder that they’ve also starred as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” Katie Frieden as Roxie Hart equally shined, with a sultry singing voice that contrasted beautifully with Floyd’s tone, and nerves of steel as she belted out her opening number while swinging from a precariously swaying ladder. Christina Wells (a former semifinalist on “America’s Got Talent”) was absolutely stellar as Matron “Mama” Thornton. Her powerful voice shimmered with vibrato and commanded the stage as easily as Mama Thornton commanded her prison.
The orchestra under the baton of Cameron Blake Kinnear was as much a part of the show as the dancers, prominently seated on the stage. They brought the house down with their jazzy warbling on trombone solos and brassy trumpet moments. The lighting designed by Ken Billington also deserves recognition for how perfectly it highlighted every tiny movement of the dancers, making each subtle moment pop.
Overall, this production, directed by Tânia Nardini (as a re-creation of the original New York production, directed by Walter Bobbie) is highly enjoyable but didn’t live up to its full potential. The musical is set in the 1920s, but it could benefit from some fresh material with new, original choreography added alongside the fantastic Tony Award-winning staples which are too few and far between. I have no doubt that audiences will still be impressed by the outstanding dancers, vocalists, and musicians, however, so I recommend catching “Chicago” at the National Theatre before it leaves town.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Mature content. Recommended for ages 13 and up.
“Chicago” runs through November 27, 2022 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004. For more information, click here. Masks are strongly recommended but not required for all ticketholders.