Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Bob Fosse musical, “Chicago,” for Christians is not the story itself, but the woman behind the story. Maurine Dallas Watkins was new reporter who wrote the original play, “Chicago” in 1927. It was loosely based on two murder cases that she covered in 1924. Belva Gaertner was a twice-divorced cabaret singer who was accused of murdering her boyfriend. Beulah Sheriff Annan was a cheating wife who shot her boyfriend and changed her story about the episode multiple times. Her husband stood by her side until after the trial when she left him allegedly because he was “too slow.” But here is the interesting part: somewhere down the road, Watkins became a born again Christian and when approached by Bob Fosse who sought the rights of “Chicago” for a musical adaptation, she refused citing that she felt that the play promoted an immoral and scandalous way of living. However, when she passed away in 1969, Fosse was able to retrieve the rights from Watkins estate and that’s why we have the immoral and scandalous musical today.
“Chicago” is sort of a black comedy with a musical score. The majority of the story takes place in jail with all the inhabitants dressed in costumes and perform as in a cabaret. The cases of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, (similar to the cases of Gaertner and Annan), are treated like a kangaroo court where the guilty go free and the innocent suffer. Village Theatre’s adaptation of “Chicago” is not for everybody. It is sexy and contains foul language, but it also an odd commentary on drive for one to become famous at any cost. As a performance, you’d be hard-pressed to find better singing talent out there. The performances are flawless and unlike many other musicals, this two and a half hour production flies by.
“Chicago” opens with Desiree Davar as Velma Kelly belting out the musical’s most famous song, “All That Jazz.” She is a cross between Liza Minnelli and Patti Lupone with the comedic facial features of Carol Burnett. Though she is a bad girl, she is instantly likeable. Taryn Darr plays sparring partner, Roxie Hart with equal talent. Neither is innocent of the crimes that they are accused of committing and neither of them cares. The only thing that matters to them is fame. Enter Billy Flynn (Timothy McCuen Piggee), the lawyer who only “cares about love.” Don’t you believe it. Flynn will do whatever it takes to see that his clients are freed from death row as long as there isn’t a better offer. The beautiful powerhouse Shaunyce Omar portrays Matron Mama Morton who reminds the girls that “when you’re good to Mama, Mama is good to you” offering her ability to put in a good word for them for a good price. Lastly, the story isn’t complete without Roxie’s poor sap of a husband portrayed by the brilliant Richard Gray. Gray doesn’t get a lot of stage time, but what he does get, he makes the most of it.
Pulling off “Chicago” is not an easy task but Village doesn’t disappoint. The sad story told for laughs plays eerily similar to young starlets of today who are not satisfied with just making a name for themselves. (The recent downward spiral of Miley Cyrus immediately comes to mind.) The musical ends just before Roxie’s realization that fame is fleeting and when it’s over, one is left as an empty shell of their former self. The musical also features a song between too crass individuals who complain about the world’s lack of class.
“Chicago” is directed by Steve Tomkins with music directed by TimSymons and choreographed by Kristin Holland. It is currently giving the old “razzle dazzle” at the Everett Performing Arts Center, (located 2710 Wetmore Avenue in downtown Everett, 98201), until July 28th. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (425) 257-8600.