Is it mere coincidence that “Chicago,” the Tony Award-winning musical centered on celebrity criminals, should end its 23-performance run in Manila on the same week that the country is rattled by the mind-blowing exposé that high-profile crooks in the New Bilibid Prison are living in sickening luxury?
Or is this a case of what Oscar Wilde called “life imitating art?” It’s irresistible to think that perhaps this is just the universe once more playing a cruel joke on the weather-beaten, notoriously optimistic Filipino people.
One would do well, however, to try and forget for a couple of hours the disheartening goings-on in the real world once one steps foot inside The Theatre at Solaire, where “Chicago” closes Sunday night.
This production—the first to play in the casino complex’s spanking-new, state-of-the-art theater—is nothing if not first-rate, and not the least bit dispiriting.
That is, in a sense, to be expected, given that this “Chicago” is a re-creation by director David Hyslop and choreographer David Bushman of the version currently running on Broadway. Now the second longest-running show in the Great White Way, this version was directed and choreographed to critical acclaim by Walter Bobbie and Ann Reinking, respectively. (It arrived in Manila for a three-week holiday of sorts before returning stateside as the musical’s 16th national tour.)
The first thing one should know about this production is that, as far as design elements are concerned, it is as stark and somber as they come. The orchestra is planted right smack in the middle of the barren stage, where the only inanimate objects are a couple of ladders and some chairs; where Ken Billington’s lights evoke the bleak atmosphere of prison; and where the performers, garbed (some of them barely) in William Ivey Long’s all-black costumes, roam predatorily.
But don’t be fooled by this seeming absence of splash and glitter. This production is a bewitching, scintillating experience, all thanks to its top-flight cast of triple-threats, in whose hands, feet and deliciously flexible bodies the story of murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in 1920s Chicago comes to festive, farcical life.
Bianca Marroquin and Terra MacLeod, as Roxie and Velma, respectively, are an evenly matched pair. Both alumni of the Broadway production, they bring grit, spunk and masked despair to their roles so effectively, even if they don’t exactly possess the kind of singing voices that could make radio hits out of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s songs.
Their interpretations border on caricature—more so with Marroquin, who sing-speaks like Minnie Mouse in a femme fatale’s clothing—which is just right for a show that glamorizes deceit and murder. (One of the production highlights is a number called “Cell Block Tango,” where six of the murderesses, including MacLeod’s steamy Velma, engage in a tell-all dance-off that can be alternately titled “Variations on Killing Your Philandering Lover.”
A corrupt prison matron (the brassy Roz Ryan), a smooth-talking, manipulative lawyer (Jeff McCarthy, excellent), and Roxie’s vacuous husband Amos (Jacob Keith Watson, in a standout supporting turn) are the other characters that lend “Chicago” a more familiar, realer-than-real air.
It’s the dancing, however, that ultimately makes the price of admission worth it—an apt finish to a year that also saw Dexter Santos’ insanely talented, ballistic corps of university students in the “Mahabharata” adaptation “Ang Nawalang Kapatid,” and the disco gay fantasia in overflowing pink and feathers, otherwise known as Resorts World Manila’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
Here in “Chicago,” it is an endless barrage of thrusting pelvises, swiveling hips, snapping fingers, angled limbs and high kicks—a testament to unwavering devotion to craft, polished in the style of the venerable Bob Fosse.
All this takes place on a seemingly cramped rectangular space, and the sass and sultriness spill over, seeping into every seat and grabbing the viewer by surprise with that tingling sensation that can only be the result of the most sensual non-R-rated viewing experiences.
Oh, if life were only this preposterously fun—where criminals are worth rooting for, and all one needs to do is dance a storm out of the ordinary. But to quote the musical, “That’s showbiz!”
“Chicago” at The Theatre in Solaire has remaining performances today until Sunday. Visit www.chicagothemusical.com for more information. Tickets are on sale through TicketWorld, tel. 8919999 or www.ticketworld.com.ph.
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