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Scarvey review of ‘Chicago’: ‘A show so splendiferous…’

“You’ve got to razzle dazzle them.” So goes a classic line from the musical “Chicago,” which opened Tuesday night at the Belk Theater ó the very first performance of the show’s new national tour.
A black comedy set in the 1920s that debuted on Broadway in 1975 , the show shows no signs of becoming irrelevant.
The opening night audience in Charlotte ó many of whom had probably seen the touring production two years ago ó gave the cast a standing ovation.
“Chicago” follows the fortunes of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, both in the pokey awaiting trial for separate murders. With unrealized dreams of stardom, Roxie is basking in the white hot attention of the media, while Velma is conniving to regain the spotlight. Billy Flynn is the lawyer whose job it is to deflect attention from the women’s obvious guilt.
During “Razzle Dazzle,” which celebrates trial as tawdry theatre, a row of lights drops down on stage, so glaringly bright they have the effect of temporarily blinding the audience, i.e., the gullible public.
It’s symbolic, of course, and stunningly effective ó in a show that consistently entertains.
Tony-nominated actor Tom Wopat is the slick, cynical Billy Flynn, who knows a bit about flim-flamming a jury so it won’t convict the cold-blooded trollops he’s representing. Dukes of Hazzard fans may remember Wopat as Luke, the dark-haired Duke brother.
The set is simple and effective, dominated by the 13-piece orchestra that performs on the stage as though it’s a smoke-filled speakeasy. The jazz music is fabulous, although at times the orchestra threatens to overwhelm Wopat’s pleasant but less than muscular voice. Since Tuesday was the opening night of the tour, one assumes this is a sound glitch that can be remedied.
Roxie Hart is played by Bianca Marroquin. In such a big, electric cast, the petite actress manages to turn in a surprisingly nuanced performance, never overplaying her part. Her gift for physical comedy is immense, and she’s particularly fun to watch as she flops around as a ventriloquist’s dummy controlled by Flynn.
Terra MacLeod is appealing as the brassy Velma. She shines in “The Cell Block Tango,” which features the incarcerated femmes fatale singing about how their male victims “had it coming” ó for such unpardonable offenses as snapping gum after being asked to stop.
MacLeod wields her voice like a dominatrix brandishing a whip in this crowd-pleasing number.
Mama Morton, played by Roz Ryan (Queen Latifah in the movie version), is the warden who advises her inmates on how to parlay their sexy notoriousness to their advantage ó for a profit, of course. Morton’s performance of “When You’re Good to Mama” is deliciously lascivious.
Ben Elledge is well-cast as Amos, Roxie’s “cellophane” husband ó who’s so invisible that when he asks the orchestra leader to play his exit music, he’s met with thunderous silence.
The chorus is crucial to the success of this show, and it’s hard to take your eyes off these lean, sultry dancers, all thrusting pelvises and serpentine grace. They are remarkably in sync with one another, and the Fosse-inspired choreography is anything but stale.
“Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it/And the reaction will be passionate,” sings Billy Flynn.
It’s true ó and fortunately, there’s more than just flash in this production.
‘Chicago’ runs through Nov. 13. Tickets start at $20 and are available at BlumenthalCenter.org, by phone at 704-372-1000 or in person at the Belk Theater box office, 130 N. Tryon St.

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