Chicago came to the Arkansas Rep revived stage and packed the house Friday night, making for a stupendous comeback for the theater, which was struggling to survive a year ago. And though the Rep's founder, Cliff Baker, did not live to savor the moment, many of those who did undoubtedly were thinking of him.
Baker had long sought to get the rights to the show, created by Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander.
A couple of Baker's past associates -- Ron Hutchins and Michael Rice -- poured plenty of heart and soul into this sweet mix of singing and dancing, enhanced by costumes that had plenty of that old "razzle dazzle," as the song goes. Hutchins directed and choreographed the production, and the dancing was entertaining and innovative.
Arkansas native Michael Rice, the show's musical director and keyboard player, conducted the seven-man orchestra, which was center stage and even an occasional focus of the action. Costume designer Trish Clark deserves plaudits for some amusing and impressive duds for the dancers.
And then there are the actors (who also are fast on their feet, as are the 12 ensemble members). Madeleine Corliss stepping in as Roxie Hart (Adriana Milbrath was reportedly nursing an ankle injury) was terrific, with great, expressive facial moves and a fine voice. It was on display first in "Funny Honey," and later in "Nowadays," which she sang with her foil, Velma Kelly -- played by Daisy Hobbs, another powerhouse singer.
They're both in the slammer for murder, Roxy for shooting a disappointing lover, and competing for celebrity in murder-mad 1920s Chicago. To their rescue rides paddy wagon chaser/lawyer Billy Flynn, played handsomely and smoothly by Christopher Johnstone.
Matron "Mama" Morton, played by Felicia Dinwiddie, rides herd over her charges as she explains how the system works in "When You're Good to Mama."
Matt Allen is sweetly good as Amos Hart, Roxie's beleaguered husband, and Z. Spiegel is hilarious and surprising as Mary Sunshine, a radio commentator.
And there are parallels to today's celebrity-crazed culture -- witness the current case of an actor (in Chicago, no less) who apparently tried to increase his profile by reportedly staging an attack on himself.
Performances will continue through March 24, with shows Wednesdays through Saturdays, plus Saturday and Sunday matinees. For more information, call the Rep at (501) 378-0405 or visit therep.org.
Metro on 02/24/2019