The touring version of “Chicago” is fighting trim, full of vitality and ready to tear up the road. An excellent cast, marked by a substitution for an injured headliner, delivers full justice to the rigorous dance and vocal demands of the revival that is currently captivating Broadway.
As in that production, Ann Reinking’s choreography in the Bob Fosse style is simply riveting in its mixture of athletic moves, slinky ensemble numbers and outrageous poses. This is true Fosse, employing to full advantage the engaging score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and throwing the limelight on every performer.
The show top-bills Charlotte D’Amboise in the role of Roxie Hart, the demanding part created by Fosse for Gwen Verdon, but D’Amboise suffered a knee injury during the production’s Cincinnati debut. Understudy Belle Calaway was called up, and in classic showbiz tradition steps snugly into the role, delivering in all departments — dancing, singing and acting. The spunky veteran never lets up from her first number, “Funny Honey,” and is especially sharp in her sultry dance with the boys, “Roxie.” She won’t be an understudy much longer. (D’Amboise is undergoing rehabilitation and is expected to return in several weeks.)
Broadway and TV veteran Jasmine Guy is equally at home as Velma, the tough cookie who vies for jail-house and media bragging rights and helps infuse the show with its delightfully sinister attitude. Guy sets the tone with the provocative opening number, “All That Jazz,” and she excels in “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “When Velma Takes the Stand.” Her two numbers with Calaway are also a delight, partly because the two have engaging voices that complement each other nicely. Guy’s an extremely athletic dancer whose talents are showcased throughout.
Other principals include Obba Babatunde as the conniving attorney, Ron Orbach as the milquetoast husband, Carol Woods as the warden and M.E. Spencer as the campy soprano reporter. All take full advantage of their moments, especially Orbach’s “Mr. Cellophane,” an inspired piece of whimsy in the sizzling second act. The show is a parade of highlights, actually, none more entertaining than the nifty Ziegfeld fan number that features Babatunde crooning about his love for women and money.
“Chicago” may be set in the 1920s, but its cynical spin on the criminal justice system is always topical, especially in the nation’s capital. It is dark, naughty and humorous at the same time, benefiting from William Ivey Long’s black tuxedo and tights costumes and concert staging that positions the 13-piece orchestra front and center. Leading that polished group is Rob Bowman, a busy Washington-area musician who presents the Kander and Ebb score to full effect.