Chicago | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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CHICAGO, Prologue Theatre Productions, at Court Theatre. Mean and lean, crude and cynical, Bob Fosse's music-hall musical Chicago would be sleazy-sick satire--if its lurid tale of dim-witted murderers Roxie and Velma weren't so prophetic. Set in 1926, this play anticipates the O.J. trial--it's all there, tabloid sensationalism, purchased justice, murder as show biz. The show's one good soul, a Hungarian wife falsely accused of murder, is soon hanged. The rest of the characters are rascals or chumps chasing fame. Most lurid are Velma and Roxie themselves, "jazz slayers" who parlay notoriety into a vaudeville career. John Kander and Ebb's slinky songs slither into your soul, and the hard-boiled dialogue is sparked with forlorn zingers like Roxie's "I'm older than I ever intended to be . . . "

Michael Barto's robust Prologue Theatre production wastes little sympathy on the rogues. Barto's dark take is blatant in Diana Simonzadeh's raw, rough Roxie (none of Gwen Verdon's soft touches for her); even Roxie's tap dancing seems angry. Fred Goudy exudes humorless hypocrisy as lizard lawyer Billy Flynn; Goudy has less fun crooning "All I Care About [Is Love]" than I could have imagined possible. But his dourness makes Catherine Smitko's prison matron all the more delightful; she vamps through a sizzling "When You're Good to Mama." Equally on target are Stephen J. Rose, wryly transparent as "Mr. Cellophane," and Fred Vipond, a hoot as Mary Sunshine, a news hound in drag.

The choreography is tentative, the jazz combo doesn't always cook, and period slides are the only scenery. The razzle-dazzle of this Chicago is in the playing, especially from the deft and sinister chorus.

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