Shimmering with glitz and guts, the Roaring ’20s explode onto the Terrace stage. From the opening piano plinks of “All That Jazz” to the steamy strains of “Keep It Hot,” Long Beach Civic Light Opera clearly strikes gold with this mounting of the Kander-Ebb vaudeville musical.
Based on an actual incident, “Chicago” tells of showgirl Roxie Hart’s (Juliet Prowse) murder of her latest infidelity (David Warren-Gibson), her subsequent jailing and the efforts of her slick mouthpiece (Gary Sandy) to secure an acquittal.
In the slammer, Roxie meets hard-edged Velma (Bebe Neuwirth), a murderess who finds her newsworthiness fading in Roxie’s limelight; a mannish matron on the take (Kaye Ballard); and a bevy of jailhouse beauties. In the end, these flapper fatales find that their fickle public abruptly shifts loyalties in its never-ending courtship of the latest prime time crime.
Kander-and-Ebb shows have never been notable for their fluid blend of book and score, with awkward song placement and a choppy script plaguing the team’s first notable work, “Cabaret.” Interestingly, this same liability works well as a theatrical device, contributing effectively to the vaudevillian quality of “Chicago,” with most scenes being introduced by the onstage bandleader (John McDaniel) in ’20s radio fashion.
Juliet Prowse (Roxie), as sassy, saucy and sexy as anyone has a right to be, pockets the show from the gate–the quintessential dancer and comedienne. With legs that go on for days, this lady kicks, leaps, shakes and executes a few moves that are better seen. If she gets any younger, her next role will have to be “Peter Pan.”
An ideal contrast to Prowse’s lushness, Bebe Neuwirth’s deadpan, bloodless Velma intimates the potential to cut to the quick. Her understated performance is accented by fluid dancing and piercing, appropriately nasal singing.
Supporting these deadly dolls, Kaye Ballard hilariously creates a matron who would be completely at home behind the wheel of a Mack truck. As Roxie’s reptilian, brilliantine-doused lawyer, Gary Sandy takes command of each opportunity with aplomb. Barney Martin plays Roxie’s unwanted “Sad Sack” husband with comedic pathos, evoking much laughter and sympathetic sighing, while M. O’Haughey steals the show with the re-creation of the warbling journalist, Mary Sunshine.
From what is shown in “Chicago,” LBCLO should hold on to Rob Marshall, choreographer Ann Reinking and musical director John McDaniel. Their artistic choices are precise, aesthetic and entertaining. Likewise Douglas D. Smith (scenic design), Garland W. Riddle (costumes) and Kim Killingsworth (lighting), whose work brilliantly captures the burlesque quality of the piece.
As a musical, “Chicago” has little dramatic action and doesn’t go anywhere, but as sizzling, side-splitting vaudeville it simply “razzle-dazzles.”