Home » ‘Chicago’ musical revival razzle dazzles in Overture Hall

‘Chicago’ musical revival razzle dazzles in Overture Hall

Musical theater people know this already, but the trailer just dropped for the new season of “Schmigadoon!” on Apple TV+. (Jazz hands!)

Last season’s gingham skirts and starched collars have been replaced by suspenders, fishnets and heavily girded lingerie. The characters have darker histories and darker origin stories. In the preview, we catch glimpses of a wily Billy Flynn lawyer type and dance hall girls purring “Do we shock you?”  

“These musicals don’t have happy endings,” Cecily Strong’s character says in a panic. That’s because they’re in — “Schmicago.”

The real musical “Chicago,” the tirelessly revived, much beloved Kander and Ebb collaboration, is close to 50 years old. The non-Equity touring production gyrating in Overture Hall this week has been on stages for nearly half that time, since Walter Bobbie directed a Broadway revival in 1996.

This is, in fact, the very same production that’s been to Madison three previous times: in 1999, 2005 and 2013. It’s as close to a re-run as live theater gets.

Logan Floyd as Velma Kelly leads the national touring cast of “Chicago” in Overture Center this week, through March 26. 

All of that’s not to say there aren’t some solid performances in this particular cast. Chief among them is Logan Floyd, whose arch, “over it” Velma Kelly perfectly reflects the show’s comic satire. Floyd gives every “jazz” in “All that Jazz” a little sneer.

Velma is the first merry murderess to get edged out by “killer chorine” Roxie Hart (Katie Frieden, having a mildly rough night at the Madison opening). Roxie shoots her lover in cold blood and blames her gullible mechanic husband, Amos (Brian Kalinowski, affable, delightful). She’s astonished this should have consequences.

Roxie enlists the help of celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn — Jeff Brooks, easily sleazy — who feeds her an origin story, a motive and a jolt of reality when fame goes to her head. Sure, the media loves her now. They’ll love her more if she hangs.

For those who know “Chicago” and are on the fence about a rewind, a few highlights. Check out Christina Wells, a wonderful singer, as prison matron Mama Morton. She and Floyd’s Velma hit every note, vocally and comically, in “Class.”

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Logan Floyd as Velma Kelly and Katie Frieden as Roxie Hart lead the national touring cast of “Chicago” in Overture Center this week, through March 26. 

Peep the dancing boys in “Roxie.” Enjoy the iconic “Cell Block Tango,” still a lot of pop-swish-sizzle, and the vocal acrobatics of G.A. James as Mary Sunshine.

Before these tropes were tropes, “Chicago’s” black bras and Fosse hip thrusts surely felt more scandalous than they do now. Costume designer William Ivey Long got one color — black — and deploys it in plunging necklines, sheer bodysuits over black bikinis, and the kind of black mesh shirts guys wear to go clubbing in Europe. The women look like glamazons.

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Christina Wells plays Mama Morton in the national tour of “Chicago.” 

“Chicago” looks its age, for good and for ill. Those 300 measures of vamping in “Roxie” never felt so long (I didn’t count, but that has to be close). Mary Sunshine’s disrobing in Act II reads uncomfortable, or worse. Thanks, I hate it.

Yet the producers of both “Chicago” and “Schmicago” know some basic truths: America’s still corrupt, sparkle still sells and that “Cell Block Tango” is still a banger.

If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have felt the same.

Lindsay Christians has been an arts writer for the Cap Times since 2008. She has a master’s degree in theater research from UW-Madison and is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. 

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