By Olivia Popp
The Broadway touring production of “Chicago” presents a fantastic limited run at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts through Nov. 18. A hard musical to get right and easy to reduce to a shell of disconnected musical numbers, the Tony Award-winning musical “Chicago” is the longest-running American musical in history, and the touring production does not disappoint.
“Chicago” requires a certain je ne sais quoi of grandeur, and this production took that in stride and ran with it, leaning into the awe-inspiring presences of Dylis Croman, Terra C. MacLeod and Peter Lockyer – playing Roxie, Velma and Billy Flynn, respectively. As MacLeod croons in the opening number and the ensemble follows her, bringing a certain Rockettes vibe to the show as she sucks you into the infamous (and famous) story. This production eliminated the MC character, who usually announces each of the “acts.” Instead, these are announced by various members of the company and the orchestra conductor himself – an interesting choice, but nonetheless not objectionable considering how the other elements were pieced together.
With a minimal set other than a massive set of stairs on which the orchestra sits, the true essence of the show comes from the performers themselves. Armed with chairs, minimal props and, most important of all, their bodies, the lack of a sprawling set was a small price to pay for the vibrant Brechtian theatricality that the cast brought to the production. Highly performative in nature, this production of “Chicago” took the meta-theatrical story to a whole new level as the cast sat along the sides of the stage, shrouded in shadow, watching their fellow castmates perform their roles and reacting directly to them. From small, faux-candid interactions with orchestra members to nearly breaking character to add to a funny moment, “Chicago” was without a dull second.
Yet perhaps the most transfixing moment wasn’t a moment at all, but instead a drawn-out monologue that took as much time as a Croman pleased. As Roxie’s impending fame goes to her head, dreaming and imagining the vaudeville act she’ll perform and all the male arm candy she’ll have with her, I was struck with a strange feeling of literally being sucked into Roxie’s headspace. I felt her losing her sanity with every giddy laugh, getting swept away by the second with every strangely gleeful silence. I didn’t even recognize what I was feeling until I realized how long the scene was going, each pause accentuated and acknowledged by the orchestra. Rushing through the monologue was just going to ruin it – and I’m so glad it was given the time it deserves.
Such a production rides on the talent of the cast, orchestra and artists involved in creating the piece, and this one lives up to its historical precedents and even brings something new. Even though I’m a cynic of Brechtian theater at heart – I’m most definitely a “Chicago” fan now.
“Chicago” plays at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, Nov. 18.
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.