Like the well-oiled machine it is, Chicago rolls along, its air of sexy decadence never changing.Of course, people don't change much either.
So almost 15 years after this version of the musical about "murder, greed, corruption and all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts" opened on Broadway, it still resonates.
Years ago, I referenced O.J. Simpson's trial when writing about Chicago's media-circus court scene. Tuesday night at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, during the same scene my companion murmured "Casey Anthony."
Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But what has changed in this production is the hard edge of amorality that usually permeates the story.
In case you've missed one of the previous touring productions (the last was here in 2005) or the 2002 Oscar-winning film, Chicago follows Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two cold-blooded killers in Prohibition-era Chicago who hope to turn their infamy to their advantage with help from slick lawyer Billy Flynn and greedy Mama Morton, their prison matron. Along the way, the show skewers the justice system, the gullible media, hypocrisy and America's obsession with celebrity.
Part of the show's fun is the contrast between ditzy, head-in-the-clouds Roxie (Bonnie Langford) and hard-as-nails Velma (Brenda Braxton). But while Langford loopily plays up her character's perky silliness, as a cross between Shelley Long from Cheers and aw-shucks Reba McEntire, Braxton fails to find Velma's ruthless core. Braxton purrs rather than commands through most of the opening "All That Jazz," and her vocals nearly get swamped by the energetic chorus.
As Mama Morton, Carol Woods also is too soft, too likable. There's no hidden malice, no danger for failing to please the matron, in her "When You're Good to Mama" -- she's just a good-time gal.
Without the harder edges, Chicago loses some of its visceral meaning, but luckily the sharp script hammers its points home. "I'm gonna tell you the truth," says Roxie, before adding with a jaded shrug, "Not that the truth really matters."
The principal men fare better: Brent Barrett has the perfect coiffure and million-dollar smile for shallow Billy. He also brings a gorgeous voice, almost wasted on the lawyer's lightweight vocals in "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle."
Tom Riis Farrell evoked audible sympathy from the audience for his portrayal as Roxie's "Mr. Cellophane" doormat of a husband, always one step behind everyone else.
The show's highlight remains the "Cell Block Tango," with the women here adding an extra dollop of pizazz to the quick character sketches formed by their confessions.
Even when not at the top of its game, Chicago still packs a hefty dose of the old razzle-dazzle.
'Chicago'What: Broadway Across America tour of the Bob Fosse-John Kander-Frank Ebb musical.When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sunday.Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando.Cost: $34-$68.More info: 407-849-2577 or broadwayacross america.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun