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The National Tour of ‘Chicago’ Brings ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and ‘All That Jazz’ to OC

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America’s No.1 longest-running musical in Broadway history, “Chicago,” made its way to Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts from May 16-21. With sparkle, sex appeal and stellar performances, the national tour’s run in OC gifted theater-goers the allure, laughter and razzle-dazzle signature of the 1920s-placed production. 

Based on the book of the same name by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, the self-aware comedy focuses on the story of two vaudevillian showgirls turned murderesses: Roxie Hart (Katie Frieden) and Velma Kelly (Logan Floyd). With music by John Kander and lyrics by Ebb, the musical spoofs the 1920s world of jazz, booze, crime and punishment by illuminating how much audiences crave the intrigue of a spectacle. “Chicago” lets the audience know that it’s not important if Roxie and Velma are guilty or innocent of their crimes. Rather, it’s all about who puts on the best, most enticing show.

And enticing it was. As audience members searched for their seats, the stage spotlighted a single chair at stage right, adorned with a hat resting on its corner. The orchestra tapped symbols and low drum beats, prepping the crowd before launching into the whines and wails of the musical’s signature jazz with the help of trumpets, a piano and the oh-so-smooth saxophone. Front and center, incorporated into the show’s set, the orchestra band became the beating heart of the production’s musical presence and movement. 

Frieden and Floyd’s vocals, dancing, and interpretation of their principal roles brought fire, talent and humor to the show as a whole. Frieden and Floyd sparkled on stage throughout their shared numbers like “My Own Best Friend,” “Nowadays” and “Hot Honey Rag.” 

As Velma, Floyd silked and shimmied her way into the audience’s heart — truly, you couldn’t look away from the vaudeville babe. From the opening notes of “All That Jazz,” to “I Can’t Do It Alone,” there’s no doubt that Floyd is a triple threat, exercising vocal control, picturesque movement and excellent comedic timing from the show’s start to its finish. 

Likewise, Frieden’s Roxie was a pleasing blend of clever, flirty and convincing, bringing a cartoon-like element to her interpretation that played surprisingly well when combined with her Streisand-esque vocals and adorable line delivery. This worked wonderfully throughout the number “We Both Reached For The Gun” where Roxie acts as lawyer Billy Flynn’s (Jeff Brooks) ventriloquist doll while she’s questioned by the press, flashing larger-than-life facial expressions and Pinocchio-like movements that make the scene delightfully vivid. Additionally, Frieden shined in “Me and My Baby” and “Funny Honey,” the latter of which she performed perched high on a ladder at the stage’s side like an angel of death surveying the investigators’ interrogation of Amos Hart (Brian Kalinowski). 

Other standout performances include Christina Wells as Matron “Mama” Morton, whose voice and vibrato were exceptionally powerful and impressive, often mimicking the saxophone heard throughout her musical numbers. Likewise, Brooks, Kalinowski and G.A. James as Mary Sunshine gave entertaining and well-rounded performances, all tickling the funny bone of audience members. 

Photo by Jeremy Daniel / Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Fans cheered and cackled especially loudly during the iconic, sultry “Cell Block Tango” as well as during the intricate and notably comedic courtroom scene. 

Other strong aspects of the national tour’s performance of “Chicago” were its Bob Fosse-inspired choreography, dynamic and unexpected use of space, and subtle, yet enhancing prop and set design. 

One anonymous audience member with a background in dance said the choreography “amazed” her — especially the “simple” and “together” aspects of it.

“It’s humorous and entertaining,” she said. “‘Chicago’ [is] a classic.”  

Another audience member, Tabitha Turner, expressed her appreciation for the set design and the actors’ use of space. 

“It was really cool how [the cast] used the stage fully: the sides, the ladders cast members would go up and the stairs in the middle that housed the orchestra. It was an intricate set-up where actors would come out of nowhere to become part of the story.” Turner said.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel / Segerstrom Center for the Arts

The show was well aware of its color palette and stuck to it, emphasizing the black, gold and smooth blues while using flooding red light to indicate when a murder was committed. Likewise, the glamorous and shimmering backdrop during “Nowadays” and the feathered fans and flapper costumes of “All I Care About” brought the illustrious and renowned razzle-dazzle of the musical to life brilliantly on stage, especially when contrasted by the nitty-gritty nightclub energy of murderous row. 

This production of “Chicago” was a lively, exceptionally funny musical experience. The show was fully committed to its goal: to entertain audiences with the wonder of an enchanting spectacle. Its audience awareness, delicious music and eye-catching choreography made it clear why this show is a classic. 

“Chicago” reminds audiences of the persuasive power of putting on an entertaining performance by doing exactly that. Like Roxie and Velma sang during the show’s last number, “it’s heaven nowadays” for anyone who got to see the national tour’s performance. 

Clairesse Schweig is a 2022-2023 Arts & Entertainment Editor. They can be reached at cschweig@uci.edu