More than a mere show, the revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago has grown into a phenomenon.
Having run 8,795 performances since opening in 1996, it is not only the longest-running revival in Broadway history, but the longest-running American show of any kind there. The musical has also proven popular locally, in several engagements at the Kravis Center, where it returns Friday for a three-night, four-performance run.
Why has the revival been so successful? According to David Bushman, who teaches and maintains the Bob Fosse choreography on Broadway and on Chicago’s many tours, it has to do with Fosse’s original concept for the show, with its still-relevant view of our justice system and, oh, yeah, the skimpy costumes.
“This is so pared down, there’s a simplicity to it,” Bushman says of the production. “We’re literally and metaphorically naked on stage. We’re in mesh and fishnets. So all you have to do is focus on this amazing work that (Fosse) came up with.
“There’s something to be said for the vaudeville devices that have worked for so long,” adds Bushman. “It’s classic stuff, yet everything that’s being talked about today, the satire of it, is better than ever. It’s almost painfully relevant now. It’s relevant and it’s also really good work.”
Based on a play from 1926, Chicago is the tale of two accused killers – Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly – who demonstrate that if you are a celebrity you can get away with, well, murder.
The revival has featured many celebrities in the cast, most of whom have never danced Fosse’s quirky, turned-in, hip-popping style. “Some have a dance background and some don’t,” notes Bushman. “So you use their strengths to the best of your ability. Brandy was a kickboxer. Jennifer Nettles was with us, a country-western singer with Sugarland. Rumer Willis, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis’s daughter showed she was talented in her own right.
“Auditioners come in, having seen the show, and they think it looks easy,” he says. “Then they realize just how difficult it is. There’s a lot of contained energy in it. All of the elbow, wrist, hand movement, and the hip movement and twisting the lower part of the body against the upper part of the body and is something that looks rather simple, but it’s not.
“This particular cast is probably one of our strongest. The Roxy and Velma on this tour are some of the best of the best. Dylis Croman has a very strong Fosse background. Lana Gordon, who did the role of Velma in Germany, is lovely. She has an amazing set of pipes and a lovely actress. The two of them together are just tremendous. And Jeff McCarty, our Billy Flynn, is amazing,” Bushman enthuses.
“If you’ve never seen the show, you absolutely owe it to yourself to see it. And this company in particular. Anyone who has seen the show before will particularly enjoy this cast.”
CHICAGO, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. $25 and up. 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.