Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Chicago (Lunchbox Theatrical)


Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin) dreams of fame but instead lands herself in jail after shooting her lover Fred, who promised her stardom but was apparently just interested in the “extra” benefits of their relationship. There she meets vaudeville veteran Velma Kelly (Terra MacLeod) who is also imprisoned for the “alleged” murder of her philandering husband and sister. The two eventually vie for the attention of Matron “Mama” Morton (Roz Ryan) and star lawyer Billy Flynn (Jeff McCarthy), both of whom they perceive as their ticket to freedom. But more than the get-out-of-jail ticket, the two seem to be more interested in the fame brought about by the media circus involved in their respective court trials hoping that each of them would have a showbiz career after the final verdict is passed. However, the game changes as one of their Hungarian inmates is hanged, a first in the history of the Windy City. The two then forge their own strategies to get the media in their favor. After all, it does not really matter if you are innocent or not in 1920’s Chicago. It’s all about image, fame, and all that jazz.

First, let me make it clear that the only version I have seen is the Oscar-winning film version which came out a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it to bits, which means this review would be heavily biased. The film had a lot going on for it as it was presented through a different medium, the advantages of which were maximized to its full potential by Rob Marshall. As such, comparisons would be uncalled for, but for an ordinary moviegoer and theater enthusiast, it could not really be avoided.

What made the film really stand out is how it managed to be theatrical at best. If you have seen the material onscreen first and then onstage, you would then expect the theater version to be more theatrical in its approach, and it is, but not quite how you imagine it would be. The sexiness is there, and some would even argue that the production is a little bit too burlesque, but in a very good way. The choreography is solid and they do give justice to the tagline “All that Jazz”. The musical numbers hit you one right after another, barely giving you a chance to recover from the intensity of the previous one.

The set, on the contrary, is minimalist. Most of the space onstage is occupied by the orchestra. The props are few and most of the time only several chairs and a tall ladder on either side of the stage are utilized. There are also many instances in which the cast members break the fourth wall, giving you the illusion that you are a part of their struggle, adding a more personal touch to your overall Chicago experience. This is the strength of the theater version, because unlike in the film, there is more flexibility, and there simply is no need to overcompensate for whatever it is that the actors lack.

Admit it; the film was all about star power. The people in the cast were there because they were big names in Hollywood. In the theater version, everyone is there because he or she is a legit triple threat who can stand on his own. In the film version, each performance is so polished that it almost borders on being too calculated and contrived. Here, you can see by the way Marroquin, MacLeod, and McCarthy play around with their performance that they have been doing this for a long time already. And this is the benefit of seeing the onstage version. The actors have made the characters their own, which means no two  productions are the same, because the actors themselves are free to add their own unique touch to the characters they portray.

McCarthy’s Razzle Dazzle, for example, is just a joy to watch. Let’s face it, Richard Gere is not really a singer, and his performance in the film is heavily backed up by the orchestra and all the theatrics in the background. In the theater version, this does not happen because Flynn’s vocals are complemented by the harmonious singing of the chorus. The blending is fantastic; no need for blinding lights or excessive use of feather props. Instead, the actors just rely on body and voice without having to exaggerate anything. It actually seems more like a simpler version of the performance, but just as awesome and thrilling.

Marroquin gives Roxie just the right mix of naivety and playfulness required for the character but more than that, what makes her performance noteworthy is how she owns the show. In the movie version, Renée Zellweger was almost always overshadowed by Catherine Zeta-Jones every time they appeared in a single frame, to the extent that both of them got nominated in the Golden Globes in the leading actress category which should not have been the case because Velma Kelly is clearly the supporting character here. At least, the Oscars got it right. Anyway, Marroquin's shining moment is her performance of Roxie. The prelude is long alright, but really effective in framing the character’s state of mind, which turns the actual song and dance number into a rather cathartic hymn to the pursuit of fame.

This does not mean to say that MacLeod is underwhelming; quite the contrary actually. Right at the moment she appears to perform the showstopper All That Jazz, you just know that you are in for a good show. You immediately feel the darkness hiding within that tall physique, but you can also observe how just enough playfulness is tossed in to prevent the character from being one dimensional. If Zeta-Jones stole Zellweger’s thunder in the movie, here MacLeod perfectly complements Marroquin, which effectively gives the duo the rapport their onscreen counterparts seemed to lack.

There is no reason for you not to like both film and theater versions. For me, though, the highlight of the movie was the story. What makes the theater version unique is that it focuses more on the music and the choreography, performed by one heck of a talented ensemble hell-bent on giving you a really good time.

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