"Chicago" full of brass and sass

By John Moore
Denver Post Theater Critic

Special / Denver Center Attractions
“Chicago” star Bianca Marroquin brings a level of expert physical comedy and precision timing rarely seen in her character, Roxie Hart. The one-week tour stop ends Sunday.

August is the worst month of the year for a Denverite to be visiting Chicago. But it's the perfect time of year for "Chicago" to be visiting Denver.

A new national touring company stockpiled with Broadway veterans has bottled up all that thick heat that hangs in the humidity over Lake Michigan this time of year and is burning it all off here in a smokin' new production at the Buell Theatre that unfortunately is stopping only long enough for the equivalent of a gangland hit-and-run.

Given the success and subsequent overkill of the Oscar-winning 2002 film, it might seem that Gregory Harrison, Brenda Braxton and Bianca Marroquin face an impossible task in trying to bump Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger out of the headlines. But call the police: The spotlight has been stolen.


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What audiences may not know is that Harrison, Braxton and Marroquin are blood brothers to "Chicago" star attorney Billy Flynn. They're ringers too. Harrison ("Trapper John M.D.") is the best-known of the trio, but all three have appeared in the Broadway revival that has been plugging along since 1996.

Looking like a young Warren Beatty, Harrison is an understated and workmanlike Flynn, but with a singing voice superior to Gere's. He manages to capture Flynn's megalomania while generously deferring the onstage focus to his wicked, wicked co-stars.

Zellweger was an adorable Roxie Hart, but Marroquin is the total package. She captures Roxie's blind, undeserved ambition while maintaining a believable emotional connection to her sad sap of a husband. Most unexpected is an expert level of precision physical comedy perhaps never before seen in a Roxie - certainly not in Zellweger's more morose approach. It is a completely endearing interpretation.

And then there is the ageless Braxton, an athletic dancer cut like Marion Jones. As prison rival Velma, she displays sass and class, not to mention gams that could pass for automatic weapons. Her physical conditioning would be a wonder at any age - but for the record, this natural wonder is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her first appearance on Broadway.

"Chicago" is in many ways the perfect musical. It is certainly the most joyfully cynical. The score is an unrelenting parade of steamy classics immortalized by the choreography of Bob Fosse "All That Jazz," "Mister Cellophane" and "Razzle Dazzle" - yet its two best production numbers are the lesser-known gems "Cell Block Tango" and "We Both Reached for the Gun." Its first act introduces one great new support character after another like a dealer peeling cards off a deck. Best of all it, it offers a flawless story with teeth, and a point of view.

After married showgirl Roxie has murdered her lover in cold blood, Billy Flynn's job is not only to get her off, but to make her a star. For five minutes. Until the public's attention shifts to the next shocking, real-life amusement.

The musical is brilliantly presented for what it is as a vaudevillian cabaret. Before an onstage 15-person band, the story seamlessly unfolds in the form of old-time routines including "a tap dance" and "an act of desperation." None is better than the brilliantly timed ventriloquism number "We Both Reached for the Gun," with Billy coaching Roxie in her testimony as she sits in his lap, like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

The support cast includes an impeccable trio of Ray Bok-

hour (who also played Amos in the tour that came through Denver in 1999), Carol Woods as the best Mama Morton I have yet seen, and R. Bean, another Broadway transplant, playing the gullible reporter Mary Sunshine who at the evening's climactic "surprise" still manages to draw gasps from startled audiences.

Not even the worst cynic in 1929 could have known that Maurine Dallas Watkins' play about a sensational tabloid murder trial would still have contemporary relevance 75 years later. But sadly, the ease of media manipulation, the corruption of the legal system, the fickle nature of celebrity and the short attention span of the public are not only relevant, they are prevalent. It's still far easier to become a star by committing a crime than for having any real talent.

The upside? "Chicago," with all its brazen, snide sexiness, may never grow old.

Theater critic John Moore can be reached at 303-820-1056 or jmoore@denverpost.com .

"Chicago"

*** 1/2|MUSICAL|National touring productionstarring Bianca Marroquin, Brenda Braxton, Gregory Harrison and Carol Woods|Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis Streets|

THROUGH SUNDAY|8 p.m. today and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday|2 hours, 25 minutes|$25-$60|303-893-4100, all King Soopers stores or www.denvercenter.org