Reviewed by Drew Shanahan
Last night, Drury Lane Oakbrook opened the first production of Chicago that our city has had in over 30 years. Due to the success of the Broadway revival that has been running since 1996, the only opportunity for Chicagoans to see the Kander and Ebb classic has been the road show that periodically comes to town. This new fully realized production is a can’t miss!
The production is led by 2 stand out leading ladies from Broadway. Alena Watters (Sister Act, The Adams Family) puts the F in femme fatale as Velma Kelly. She moves from seductress in the opening “All That Jazz” to opportunist in “I Can’t Do It Alone” to sarcastic brat in the opening of act 2 effortlessly. Ms. Watters struts, kicks and belts her way to a star turn.
The other half of this star duo is Kelly Felthous (Wicked, Grease) bursting with energy as the wannabe celebrity Roxie Hart. Ms. Felthous has a strong command of the black comedy within the book of this show. There is a great gag early on with piano that set the tone for who her Roxie is. Felthous is a true triple threat possessing a voice similar in timbre to that of Kristin Chenoweth. She made “Me and My Baby” (a song I normally don’t care for in this score) a real show stopper. Both women dance Tony nominee Jane Lanier’s Fosse inspired, original choreography with precision, charm and ease. Ms. Felthaus and Ms. Watters make for the fiercest twosome to be seen on a Chicago stage in recent memory.
Not to be outdone by the murderous jazz slayers, the supporting players are mostly strong too. E. Faye Butler steals the show as Mama Morton. Ms. Butler is an expert comedian and her rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama” brings down the house. When Butler is on stage, you don’t look elsewhere. Justin Brill taps in deeper to the sympathy of Amos Hart more than I’ve seen before. He received applause simply for entering and leaving the stage at times. He is the everyman you can and want to root for. Gus Lockard (a previous vocalist with Trans-Siberian Orchestra) has smooth vocals but lacks the acting chops to match his cohorts.
As an audience member it was so refreshing to see a brand new production design. The multi-level set designed by Kevin Depinet is equal parts vaudeville stage and old school news room. A spiral stair case, a fireman’s pole, and effective use of a trap door keep the action moving and gives the actors a versatile playground. It is complimented by Lee Fiskness’ lighting design which is especially excellent during the musical numbers. The costume design by Sully Ratke brings authentic 20’s style and color; something I have come to miss over repeated viewings of the all black stripped down revival.
This production deeply taps into the vaudeville pastiche of an era that has passed while still feeling incredible relevant. In the era of reality stars and the media influencing politics, one cannot help but find parallels from the glorification of these characters. I didn’t expect the finale to pack quite that kind of punch. This is one of the best musical productions I have seen in recent memory.
Chicago runs through June 18th. Performances are Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays at 1:30pm and 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 5:00pm and 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm and 6:00pm. Tickets range from $45-$60. Drurylanetheatre.com