If you've only seen the movie version of Chicago, and it's a pretty sexy and sleek story on the big screen, you have to do yourself a favor and check out the current production at the Muny. The Muny has such an expansive stage that some musicals can get lost, but not this one. In this case, Chicago seems larger than life, and that's appropriate since the story and characters are so bold and brazen. I highly recommend this show, especially if you haven't seen it on stage before, because it's a terrific production that pulls no punches.
The story (John Kander and Bob Fosse wrote the book, with Kander and Fred Ebb composing the catchy score) is set in the 1920's in the titular Midwest city, at a time when its institutions have become corrupt, and justice can be finagled through the power of the press, and the greasing of the right palms. When married Roxie Hart shoots her lover for no other reason than the fact that he leaves her, she's quickly escorted to prison to await a speedy trial and a broken neck at her hanging. But, she attains the services of Billy Flynn, a shyster lawyer who makes magic happen in the courtroom through his carefully planned manipulations, even if it involves the exploitation of his client. Roxie quickly follows his advice and watches her star rise above fellow incarcerated murderess, Velma Kelly. However, the media is a fickle mistress, and at the end of act one both appear to have their fame momentarily eclipsed by a prominent socialite's sudden crime of passion.
Patti Murin is a bundle of unbridled energy as Roxie, packing a generous amount of sex appeal in her fishnet stockings. Murin does fine work on “Funny Honey”, as well as her signature tune, “Roxie”. Dean Christopher is equal parts pathetic and sympathetic as her husband Amos, who's given a more apt moniker in his own “signature” song “Mr. Cellophane”. Natascia Diaz gives a vibrant, soulful performance as Velma, and when she recognizes her failing popularity, she wisely attempts to recruit Roxie; an act conveyed in the song, “I Can't Do It Alone”. The pair heat up during “Hot Honey Rag”, displaying a feisty camaraderie. Justin Guarini does a good job as Billy Flynn, imbuing his character with the right mixture of slick insincerity that the role dictates, and he moves smoothly through numbers like “A Little Bit of Good” and “Razzle Dazzle”. Jackie Hoffman cuts loose as Matron “Mama” Morton, grabbing the audience's attention early with a smoldering take on “When You're Good to Mama”. The supporting cast is top notch as well.
Denis Jones directs and choreographs the show, and pulls off both tasks with considerable aplomb. He's aided greatly by the nightclub scenic design of Steven Gilliam, Seth Jackson's alternately moody and flashy lighting scheme, and the cool costumes designed by Andrea Lauer. Charlie Alterman's musical direction is superb, and since the stage is set like a club, the orchestra is, for once, in full view of the audience. The makeup for the males in the cast also deserves mention, with its allusion to another Kander and Ebb show (Cabaret).
This very engaging and adult presentation of Chicago continues through July 1, 2012 at the Muny in Forest Park.