Keeper of the Plans

Review: Lively Music Theatre production of ‘Chicago’ dazzles audience

One of the main messages of the musical “Chicago” is that, with a little “razzle-dazzle,” you can fool people in believing something that’s not necessarily true.

Music Theatre Wichita certainly razzle-dazzled the audience during “Chicago” on Wednesday evening, but instead of disguising some imperfection, it showcased a brilliant full-ensemble effort.

“Chicago” is probably the funniest show I’ve ever seen at Music Theatre Wichita, just barely eclipsing its raucous production of “Sister Act” last summer.

The three Broadway stars MTW has imported for this production are impeccable — leading ladies Anne Horak and Ellyn Marie Marsh, as murderesses Roxie and Velma respectively, were a delight. David Elder, as the shyster lawyer Billy Flynn, thoroughly impressed with his acting, though his singing voice at times sounded tired.

The thing that struck me as I was watching the wonderfully choreographed opening number, “All That Jazz,” was just how impressive this slate of MTW shows would look on its company’s resumes.

This group has gone from “The Sound of Music,” to the ultra dance-heavy “American in Paris,” to the ensemble-led “Chorus Line” to athletic jazz and tap in this show, then will go to Latin and hip-hop dance next in “In the Heights.”

The performer who has the versatility to do all of those things well surely has a bright future on Broadway.

One of the most unique things about the 1996 revival version of “Chicago” — which this and basically every other modern production is based on — is that the band is on stage, not in the orchestra pit.

Strangely, it takes a little bit of time to adjust to having the orchestration coming from a different area, because at times it feels more distant.

During some solo numbers, I did find myself watching the bandstand more than the performer, as it was fascinating to watch the players insert and remove trombone mutes and frequently switch instruments.

Director and choreographer Brian J. Marcum has taken some liberties with the choreography, which features plenty of its original Fosse-ness but is much more athletic in style.

It makes artistic sense, and it highly entertaining to watch — when you’ve got a super-athletic dancing cast, why not show that off?

There’s a reason why this show is the second-longest-running Broadway musical of all time.

Though it came out in the 1970s, it still feels modern and fresh — probably because of the timely subject matter.

MTW’s production of “Chicago” will be the highlight of your weekend, I promise you that.

The strength of its leads, coupled with the talents of its ensemble, makes for a lively and hilarious musical built to please.

‘CHICAGO’

What: New production of the classic 1975 musical set in Jazz-age Chicago, skewering the criminal justice system.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., and 7 p.m. Sun.

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $25-$70, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107, or online at www.mtwichita.org.

More information: Show is rated PG-13 for strong language and mature themes. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes. Children must be at least 5 years old to attend.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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