Theater Review: CHICAGO (National Tour)

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by Dan Zeff on February 15, 2024

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego,Tours


The national tour of Chicago at the San Diego Civic Theater — now through Sunday — reaffirms what generations of theater fans have recognized. This musical ranks among the major theatrical entertainments in the history of American musical theater. For verification, consider the full house at the Wednesday night performance who whooped their approval throughout the production.

Kailin Brown as Velma Kelly with Company

In case some Civic Theater customers mistaken believed they were about to attend a revival of The Sound of Music, the show opens with an on stage announcement specifying that they are about to enjoy a show about “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery, all those things we hold dear to our hearts.”

The National Tour of CHICAGO

Chicago is set in the roaring twenties. The plot basically revolves around Roxie Hart, a married vaudeville hoofer who shoots her cheating lover. The plot is expanded with the addition of Velma Kelly, who also does some man killing. In order to avoid prison, the ladies seek the services of a slick lawyer named Billy Flynn. It all ends up as a scorching, but funny, satire on the sleazy element in the American society of the 1920s, especially the lust for celebrityhood.


The musical was composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb; in style and attitude resembles the team’s Cabaret. The show was directed and choreographed in 1975 by the great Bob Fosse. This current revival is based on a 1996 City Center Encores! concert staging, which had Ann Reinking recreating Fosse’s original choreography. That four-night concert staging was so well received that a few months later, this same minimalist concert staging was brought to Broadway and still continues (it’s the second-longest running show behind Phantom of the Opera). The original production had full costumes and set design. Here, the orchestra is seated in rows above and behind the stage with no scenery (but designer John Lee Beatty still gets a check for every performance), with performers sitting in bare chairs just off stage, entering the action when it’s their turn (Ken Billington fills in the blanks with his Tony-winning lighting design). Most of the performers are dressed by William Ivey Long in basic sexy black.

Katie Frieden and the cast of Chicago

This being a Bob Fosse show, the dancing recreated by Gregory Butler dazzles, both in the chorus displays and in the extended solos performed by Velma Kelly (Kailin Brown) and Roxie Hart (Katie Frieden). Both dancers display impressive stamina and athleticism, jointly offering a virtual concert of ballet-ish jazz dancing. They have hot solos in “When Velma Takes the Stand” and “Roxie” are also share the stage for three high-velocity duos.

Connor Sullivan and the Fan Girls

The show’s big stars obviously are Brown and Frieden, but there is major support from Connor Sullivan as Billy Flynn, who could have added another coating of oily shysterism to the character. But Sullivan had the audience roaring with his interminably held high note in “Razzle Dazzle.” Illeana Kirvin plays the jail matron Mama Morton with insufficient breezy corruption, reducing the impact of what should have been the production’s funniest character. But a cumulative salute goes to the chorus as it carries out Fosse’s one-of-a-kind choreography. David Hyslop recreates Walter Bobbie‘s original direction.

Robert Quiles as Amos Hart

There are some inspired characterizations in the script, like Amos Hart (Robert Quiles), the woebegone husband of Roxie, and the gossip columnist Mary Sunshine (J. Terrill), who can’t be discussed further without spoiling the show’s major surprise. Even conductor Cameron Blake Kinnear tickled the audience with his throw-away comic shtick.

You will be treated to camp, jazz licks, belting solos, and sexy dancers. So, go spend an evening and experience what Broadway is very good at.

The National Tour Company of CHICAGO

photos of tour by Jeremy Daniel

National Tour presented by Broadway San Diego
San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Avenue
for tickets, call 619.564.3000 or visit BroadwaySD
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1 & 6:30
ends on February 18, 2024 in San Diego
for future tour dates and cities, visit Chicago The Musical

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