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A CurtainUp Feature
Chicago Celebrates Its 10th Birthday and so does CurtainUp
By Elyse Sommer
Depending on how you look at it, Kander and Ebb's Chicago is either thirty-one or ten years old. The 1975 Broadway production with its razzle-dazzle score, dancing and the star power of Chita Rivera (Velma Kelly) Jerry Orbach (Billy Flynn) and Gwen Verdon (Roxie Hart) enjoyed a respectable two year run. But it couldn't beat lines at the box office of Chorus Line. The ten-year-old Chicago actually began as a concert revival of that show, as part of the Encores! series. That modest 5-day production caught fire and became one of Broadway's best loved and attended musicals, its success boosted by a good deal of news generating and audience building replacement casting.
Since the show's November 14th birthday celebration was put on as a benefit for Safe Horizons, an organization that helps victims of criminal abuse, the press was invited to attend the afternoon dress rehearsal. It may have been a bit more informal, but that dress rehearsal was just as much an event, especially with the audience dotted with stars like Christine Ebersole, who could not attend the evening festivities because of their own shows.
For me this was a double dipper nostalgia event since Chicago's anniversary coincides with CurtainUp's — in fact Chicago was our very first Broadway review and it's wonderful to see so many of the good things we predicted for it have come true and our own hopes for a large readership of theater enthusiasts have been realized. Since the dress rehearsal seats were unassigned I started my nostalgia trip by taking the very same aisle seat I sat in back in November 1996. Too bad, David Hyde Pierce, who sat right next to me back then (obviously there to see his TV colleague Bebe Neuwirth), wasn't there again. Who knew then that Pierce whom I knew mostly as the neurotic Miles Frazier would go on to become a musical star himself (Spamalot, and the Broadway headed Curtains)? At any rate Bebe Neuwirth WAS back on stage, though not until the finale, after a mind-blowing array of Velmas, Roxies, Billy Flynns and Mamma Mortons took over parts of the shows that they had done.
Getting things off to a stand-up and cheer start was the 1975 Velma, Chita Rivera. Overused as the adjective amazing is, it surely applies to this dynamite performer. What a smile! What gams! What energy!
The parade of former Roxies, Velmas, Billy Flynns, Mama Mortons, Amoses and Mary Sunshines was smartly integrated so that this cast-of-thousands approach seemd quite natural. As was to be expected, the 1996 premiere cast members were on hand for some of the most spectacular morphing from their guest solos to a small chorus line of those who took over.
James Naughton, debonair as ever, was part of one of the more showy numbers in which he is framed in a ring of white feathers. The miniscule Joel Grey reprised his terrific " Mr. Cellophane" but the heftier Amoses on stage, including the endearing Kevin Chamberlin were proof that this show has characters and songs that are adaptable to many styles. This was also true of some of the terrific, jazzy Mama Mortons like Roz Ryan who followed in Marcia Lewis' seemingly hard to fill shoes.
Having never seen Brooke Shields or Melanie Griffin, both of whom drew much praise during their Chicago stints, it was a treat to see both -- Shields with Brent Barrett bringing plenty of ammunition to "The Gun Song " and Griffith's "Roxie" proving she had enough personality and presence to overcome the fact that she's not really a singer.
Instead of going on and on, I'll just list the line-up herewith: Donna Marie Asbury, Brent Barrett, Rob Bartlett, Hinton Battle, Roy Bean, PJ Benjamin, Sandahl Bergman, Ray Bokhour, Jim Borstelman, Wayne Brady, Brenda Braxton, Greg Butler, Kevin Carolan, Caitlin Carter, Lynda Carter, Kevin Chamberlin, Chuck Cooper, Mindy Cooper, Charlotte d'Amboise, Paige Davis, Michelle DeJean, Denny Paschal, Bernard Dotson, Bryn Bowling, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Shawn Emamjomeh ,Gabriela Garcia, Joel Grey Melanie Griffith Gregory Harrison Marilu Henner Ruthie Henshall Denis Jones David Kent ,Mary Ann Lamb, Sharon Lawrence, Huey Lewis, Marcia Lewis, Bryan Jeff Loeffelholz, Ryan Lowe, Melissa Rae Mahon, Bianca Marroquin, Christopher McDonald, Gerry McIntyre, Terra C. MacLeod, Sharon Moore, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, Caroline O'Connor, John O'Hurley, Ron Orbach ,Destan Owens, Ron Raines, Ann Reinking, Kevin Richardson, Matthew Risch, Chita Rivera, Michelle M. Robinson, Roz Ryan, David Sabella. Ernie Sabella, Brooke Shields, Ashlee Simpson, Mark Anthony Taylor, Rocker Verastique Jennifer West Rita Wilson Bruce Winant Carol Woods Tom Wopat Amra-Faye Wright, Eric Jordan Young, Karen Ziemba ,Leigh Zimmerman.
The show itself is crisp and still full of "all that jazz" so I'm counting on going to a twentieth anniversary celebration. Now let's see, if Barry & Fran Weissler, wanted to have some casting suggestions for the next ten years, here are a few likely candidates who come to mind: Nancy Anderson Cady Huffman, Cynthia Nixon as Roxie; Sarah Ramirez, Emily Skinner as Velma; Mark Kudisch, Liev Schreiber, Michael Cumpsty, Chris Noth, Jesse Martin as Billy Flynn; Mary Testa, Becky Ann Baker, Nancy Opel as Mamma Morton; Eddie Korbich, Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Martin Short and David Hyde Pierce as Amos (and how about pairing Pierce with his TV brother Kelsey Grammer as Billy Flynn?).
Of course many of the Chicago-ers could reprise their performances or in the case of Roxie and Velma reverse roles, which is exactly what Bebe Neuwirth will be doing next year. Below links to our two reviews of the show.
Chicago Reviewed (November1996)
Chicago- Re-reviewed (December 1998)
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide