Drury Lane 'Chicago' makes media a target in flashy production

 
 
Updated 5/1/2017 8:01 AM
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  • The murderous vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Alena Watters) sings "All That Jazz" with a contingent of 1920s newspaper reporters and photographers in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

    The murderous vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Alena Watters) sings "All That Jazz" with a contingent of 1920s newspaper reporters and photographers in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace. Images Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

  • Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) reflects on her husband's loyalty in the torch song "Funny Honey" in the Drury Lane Theatre production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous) reflects on her husband's loyalty in the torch song "Funny Honey" in the Drury Lane Theatre production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace. Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

  • Six "merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail" sing the "Cell Block Tango" to a group of reporters while the editor-in-chief/master of ceremonies (Michael Accardo) hovers overhead in his office in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Six "merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail" sing the "Cell Block Tango" to a group of reporters while the editor-in-chief/master of ceremonies (Michael Accardo) hovers overhead in his office in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace. Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

  • Matron Mama Morton (E. Faye Butler) sings the number "When You're Good to Mama" in the musical "Chicago" at Drury Lane Theatre.

    Matron Mama Morton (E. Faye Butler) sings the number "When You're Good to Mama" in the musical "Chicago" at Drury Lane Theatre. Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

  • Car mechanic Amos Hart (Justin Brill) bemoans his insignificance in the song "Mister Cellophane" in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Car mechanic Amos Hart (Justin Brill) bemoans his insignificance in the song "Mister Cellophane" in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace. Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

  • High-priced attorney Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) and a bevy of showgirls sing the number "All I Care About" in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

    High-priced attorney Billy Flynn (Guy Lockard) and a bevy of showgirls sing the number "All I Care About" in Drury Lane Theatre's homegrown production of the musical "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace. Courtesy of Brett Beiner Photography/Drury Lane Theatre

The hit musical "Chicago" famously uses vaudeville acts to take aim at two manipulative "murderesses" and their rivalry to become showbiz celebrities. But it's the media this time around that is held up as a major target in Drury Lane Theatre's flashy homegrown "Chicago" in Oakbrook Terrace.

Director William Osetek adeptly returns the musical to its Windy City newspaper roots by evoking both Maurine Dallas Watkins' original 1926 drama "Chicago" and Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 press room comedy "The Front Page." The master of ceremonies (Michael Accardo) is transformed into a managing editor who hovers overhead from an omniscient newsroom office, while chorus boys scamper around dressed as reporters and photographers in pursuit of salacious scoops.

Drury Lane's "Chicago" distances itself even further from the stripped-down (and still-running) 1996 Broadway revival by deploying much more sleek scenery and colorful period costumes by respective designers Kevin Depinet and Sully Ratke. Drury Lane also banishes its fine jazz orchestra to the pit, while restoring previously cut snippets of Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse's original 1975 script.

All this allows for many wonderful surprises for audiences who think they already know this musical masterpiece by songwriters Ebb and John Kander. And Drury Lane's talented "Chicago" cast repeatedly smacks each glorious number out of the ballpark.

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the original "Chicago" Velma Kelly of Chita Rivera, Alena Watters gets things off to a rousing start with a commanding take on "All That Jazz." Watters doesn't let up, even in the face of her upstart redheaded rival -- the kewpie doll-voiced schemer Roxie Hart (Kelly Felthous as a lovable and fragile antihero).

Jeff Award-winner E. Faye Butler makes an unbelievably late Drury Lane debut as Matron Mama Morton, easily bringing to mind the blues legend Bessie Smith with her growling take on "When You're Good to Mama." By contrast, J. London is all elegant operatic trills as the goody-two-shoes reporter Mary Sunshine.

As Amos, Justin Brill breaks your heart as Roxie's milquetoast husband -- particularly in his sad sack clown number "Mister Cellophane." Guy Lockard gets the job done as high-priced attorney Billy Flynn, though sometimes he shows more effort than ease in delivering his polished material.

The fine supporting ensemble executes Jane Lanier's seductive and slinky Fosse-inspired choreography with plenty of dazzle. They aptly match the sparkly showbiz lighting design of Lee Fiskness.

With this "Chicago," Drury Lane is calling out the media for favoring sensationalism over substance in the relentless pursuit of newspaper sales, TV ratings and (nowadays) online clicks. And in this day and age when vulgarians are elevated to positions of fame and power, the criticism is certainly warranted.

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