Racy, crazy blast at the Palace
Chicago offers itself up as “it” show of the fall
By Robert Greene
What else can you say about a production chock full of dancing, catchy
songs, scantily clad actors, a ton of talent, energy, stairs that light
up, an onstage band, well-acted parts and an opening-night standing
In general, I believe modern audiences give away standing Os too often
but The Palace Theatre’s production of Chicago earned it on its opening
night, Friday, Nov. 11
Chicago, running through Nov. 19 at the Manchester theater, is simply
wonderful. It’s sexy, funny, wicked and thoroughly entertaining —
everything you would hope a Broadway musical turned movie turned Hanover
Street triumph could be. Headed to the parking garage after the show,
several members of the audience could be heard singing, whistling or
otherwise emulating production numbers all the way to their cars, and
possibly beyond. I, for one, kept singing “Mr. Cellophane” until long
after I got home. (I had to sit and watch home-decorating shows to make
the urge pass.)
Chicago is a musical, based on a 1927 silent film, which was drawn from
a play, which was in turn based on the real life story of Beulah Annan
(fictionalized to Roxy Hart) and her death-row pal, Belva Gaertner, who
murdered their boyfriends. Most recently, Chicago was a 2002 movie,
starring Renée Zellweger, Queen Latifah, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard
Gere, John C. Reilly and Christine Baranski.
The story goes thisaway: Velma Kelly is a nightclub star whose celebrity
is increased by her double murder of her adulterous husband and her
sister. Her prospects for a quick not-guilty are good, with a little
help from her adoring public and her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Then along
comes Roxie Hart, who ends up in prison after gunning down her lover.
Roxie also hires Flynn and turns out to be even more of a media darling
than Velma and Velma’s case — and celebrity — moves to the back burner.
The musical Chicago, originally staged on Broadway in 1975, was not
especially well received by audiences who were not prepared for the
show’s cynical tone. However, the production’s critique of the culture
of celebrity, the power of money, the manipulation of the press and the
failings of the American legal system are well suited to today.
Standouts at the Palace show are Susan Grady (as the ambitious sexpot
Roxy Hart), Mark Nichols (as Roxy’s not sexy but steady husband Amos)
and Mickey Lebrecht (Matron Mama Morton).
Nichols, an IT guy from Watertown, Mass., who does the theater thing on
the side, was great as sad sack Amos, making the character pitiable
while somewhat repulsive. You can understand why Roxy steps out on him
but still feel sorry that she does. Amos Hart is a nobody who loves his
wife with the same passion with which he fixes cars, which is to say,
none. In his signature song, “Mr. Cellophane,” Amos wonders why no one
notices him without understanding that there is really nothing much to
Grady is an old hand at musical theater with credits ranging from Audrey
in Little Shop of Horror and the national tour of Saturday Night Fever.
She’s perfect for the part of Roxy and can dance up as storm while still
keeping enough breath to sing beautifully. Lots of fun is one segment
where Grady serves as her lawyer’s ventriloquism dummy during a trial
Chicago marks Lebrecht’s return to the stage after a 30-year hiatus.
She’s a former Rockette and retired from acting in 1976 after doing My
Fair Lady on Broadway. Class shows, as she and Velma (Lebrecht’s
daughter Dawn Lebrecht!) sing in one scene, and Lebrecht offers it in
every scene. She’s the best thing the Palace stage has seen in a dog’s
The show foundered a bit during the court scene toward the end of the
second act, but quickly regained its footing and energy. The
opening-night crowd was the biggest the Palace Theatre has seen, a fact
that bodes well for the Palace coffers but poorly for getting a ticket.
My advice: act fast.
Chicago is running 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19.
Tickets are $20 to $40 depending on where you want to sit. Get them
online at palacetheatre.org or call 668-5588. The show is fairly racy so
adult supervision is suggested, but it’s not so blue as to shock anyone