“Chicago” celebrated its 7,000th performance at the Ambassador Theater in New York City, on Tuesday, Sept. 24. A month prior, I took a trip to see this highly acclaimed show, which is also the longest running American musical on Broadway. After sitting through the two and a half hour performance, I realized that reaching such a milestone as 7,000 performances may not be such a great thing.
The musical, with an impeccable score and simplistic design, tells the tale of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. Both women are vaudeville actresses, the latter more seasoned and experienced. The two bombshells are ultimately locked up in the same Chicago prison. Set during the Prohibition era of the ’20s, crime is abundant and makes for splashy headlines and fresh gossip. Billy Flynn, an electric and smooth lawyer, is seemingly the only ticket out, and the musical highlights the back and forth of Roxie and Velma’s journey. Ultimately, the two girls realize that the only way to reach the success they both desire is to join forces, resulting in “Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag,” the show’s big finale.
The dialogue is sharp, the music is complex, and the Fosse choreography is unmatched. The problem lies within the current production, which runs like a machine with more than a few rusty screws. For the most part, the cast is uninspired. The performances were not as sharp as one would expect from such a dazzling Broadway show. The set and costumes are also extremely minimalistic. Such is the design of the original Broadway production, where the show was supposed to be performed “Cabaret” style, with a master of ceremonies introducing most songs from the pit orchestra.
The simplistic approach worked then, but is perhaps too dull for the Broadway of our generation. After all, tickets are not cheap, despite how long the show has been running. The musical is entertaining, sure, but is it worth the $150 price tag for orchestra seats?
Perhaps I, like many others, are jaded by the wildly successful 2002 film adaptation that won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie was a masterpiece with razor-sharp performances and perfectly produced numbers. It is a rare case where the movie is much better than the actual stage production. After running for so long, it is in desperate need of a makeover. The music and story are still timeless, but the entire production needs to be redone.
In addition, the performance I saw was the last night of TV personality Wendy Williams playing the role of Mamma Morton. Williams was flat during most of her performance, and her only saving grace was the smile she wore the whole time.
“Chicago” is constantly bringing in B-list celebrities to sell tickets. For example, up next is world champion figure skater Elvis Stojko. But they seem to be focusing on all the wrong ideas. Instead of employing fresh talent from the streets of New York, they are digging up celebrities who think being on Broadway would simply be fun. Overall, the show needs to refocus its design if it wants to continue its record-breaking run.