AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Bob Fosse & Fred Ebb
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Presented by Best of Broadway
Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco / (415) 512-7770

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Sometimes when seeing a great musical for the umpteenth time, one can be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. The pleasant part comes when the show is as carefully staged as it was originally and when everything is performed well. The unpleasant part can come when a principal role is filled by someone whose name recognition isn't nearly enough.

The touring version of director Walter Bobbie's 1996 revival of "Chicago," the blockbuster 1975 musical by composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and librettists Ebb and Bob Fosse, offers an array of pleasant surprises and only one unpleasant one -- rock singer Huey Lewis as Billy Flynn, the slick, money-loving lawyer who defends two chorines accused of murder in Chicago in the '20s. Lewis follows in the footsteps of such accomplished Billys as the late Jerry Orbach, who originated the role on Broadway, and Richard Gere, who polished his singing and dancing to star in the film version. Lewis, however, seems miscast. Either he has ruined his voice with rock music or he had some vocal indisposition at opening night, for he seemed hoarse. Worse, he had pitch problems in his two big numbers, "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle." And while "Razzle Dazzle" is also a dance number, Lewis merely moves about in time with the music and executes a few simple twirls of his cane. Not much razzle dazzle there.

Instead the razzle dazzle comes from the rest of the cast, especially Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Michelle DeJean as Roxie Hart, the two murderesses. MacLeod starts the show off right with a sizzling "All That Jazz," sung with a rich voice somewhat reminiscent of Liza Minnelli in her prime, and follows it up with the dynamic "Cell Block Tango." DeJean plays Roxie with more sly savvy than sometimes seen in the role. She's a gifted comic actress whose timing is terrific, especially in her showcase number, "Roxie." She also is a terrific singer. She and MacLeod blend so well in songs like "My Own Best Friend" that it's difficult to distinguish them. Likewise, MacLeod blends well with Carol Woods as Matron "Mama" Morton in the hilarious "Class," which they sing deadpan. Woods, too, is a good singer, as shown in "When You're Good to Mama."

Ron Orbach, who appeared in the touring production that played San Francisco in 1998, has honed his portrayal of Amos Hart, Roxie's loyal, sad-sack husband, to near-perfection, especially his signature song, "Mister Cellophane," which wins the audience's sympathy. R. Bean uses a bit too much vibrato in his drag portrayal of sob sister reporter Mary Sunshine, but his appearance is convincing.

The chorus sings and dances well, precisely executing Gary Chryst's choreography, who recreated it from Ann Reinking's choreography, which in turn was inspired by Fosse, the show's original Broadway choreographer and director. Even though the dancing is several generations removed from Fosse, it still bears much of his signature style and moves. The onstage orchestra is conducted by music director Vincent Fanuele. The mostly bare-bones scenic design is by John Lee Beatty with costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Ken Billington and sound by Scott Lehrer.

"Chicago" is a show that still leaves audiences cheering after 31 years because of the genius of its creators as well as the high standards reflected in every aspect of this production except for Lewis.

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