When in doubt of a play’s quality, bring a high school theater kid along. At that age, thespians are still pure of heart, uncorrupted by critical theory or career jadedness. They are ready to be entertained. So when I lucked into a pair of tickets for Barry and Fran Weissler’s production of Chicago at the Granada Theatre on April 7, I knew to bring my 15 year old, theater-loving sister, a better judge than me.
Fortunately for us both, the touring Broadway musical entertained us in spades. On the rainy first of two nights at the Granada, the cast, orchestra, and crew of Chicago delivered a joyful dose of Broadway spectacle.
Production-wise, the set was rather sparse, consisting only of a few basic elements — chairs, lights — backed by an orchestra on a raised stage. The vaudevillian minimalism put things in clear relief; the low lighting gave the cast an opportunity to shine in the atmospheric prison cell black. Costumes were, fittingly, minimal and black as well, a blend of dapper suits and lingerie (prison uniforms were interesting in the 1920s.) What the show lacked in ornament, the performers occasionally adorned with fourth wall cracks, like Roz Ryan as Matron “Mama” Morton exchanging flirty growls with the audience, or Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart coyly interacting with the conductor.
Croman and Ryan were two of the biggest standouts in a cast of standouts. Croman perfectly channeled that sweet ’20’s helium balloon squeak with expertly cartoony physical comedy and a bounty of charm. Ryan, the longest standing member of the cast as an 18-year Chicago veteran, held it down with the dignity, vitality, and mighty voice of a true pro. Other cast highlights included the hilarious Brent Barrett as Billy Flynn, the bold Terra C MacLeod as Velma Kelly, and dark horse crowd favorite D. Ratell as the melodic Mary Sunshine. Aurore Joly and Matthew Winnegge also deserve special mention as the zany and ill-fated Hunyak and as a very funny juryman, respectively.
Of course, all this would be nothing if the dancing weren’t good — and it was very good. The cast nailed the no doubt difficult madcap ventriloquy of “We Both Reached for the Gun,” and moved with incredible articulation in numbers like “Cell Block Tango” and “Roxie.” As Roxie and Velma ended things in stylish tandem with the fiery tap of “Hot Honey Rag,” my sister commented, “They look like they’re having a lot of fun.” They were, and the feeling was infectious. The show felt, as a good Broadway production should, like a riotous mood-buoying party; my fellow reviewer said it made her love the musical even more. How’s that for an endorsement?