Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006
Gardening
Gardening
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THEATER / JULIE YORK COPPENS

Too much 'Chicago' is never enough

JULIE YORK COPPENS

Do we really need to see this show again?

Yes.

Between the Broadway revival, still hot after nearly a decade, the 2002 film and multiple touring productions, "Chicago" could be the most over-exposed American musical of our time -- and we're not just talking about the many shapely performers who've exposed their assets in the show's costumes. (Never before has Rock Hill-bred designer William Ivey Long done so much with so little.)

The company now at the Belk Theater will satisfy those (like us) who know "Chicago" by heart. And it will thrill the four or five people who might be experiencing this Jazz Age tale of murder, greed, corruption, violence, adultery and treachery -- "all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts," as the prologue goes -- for the first time.

In fact, we're probably getting a better "Chicago" than audiences in New York, where producers rely on stunt celebrity casting to bring in the tourists. There's one celebrity here, soap and "Seinfeld" veteran John O'Hurley, but he's well cast in a role that doesn't make or break the show. The rest of the ensemble illustrates one of the lessons of the bloody "Chicago" story, which is that the most talented, hardworking people in any given field are not always the people who get famous.

This company's phenomenal Roxie Hart, Michelle DeJean, certainly deserves to be a household name. (The redhead reminds us of one who is: Debra Messing of "Will & Grace.") A striking triple-threat, DeJean throws herself, sometimes literally, into the trashy but lovable Roxie, a woman who shoots her lover and expects her schlemiel husband to clean up the mess while she makes a killing in vaudeville. For fans of the "Chicago" movie who suspect that Renée Zellweger -- how to say this kindly? -- perhaps failed to exploit all the dramatic and comic possibilities of the part, DeJean's richly layered performance removes all doubt.

As Roxie's rival Velma Kelly, Terra C. MacLeod has a tougher screen act to follow. (Catherine Zeta-Jones earned every bit of that Oscar.) And MacLeod inevitably pales in the big-hearted glow cast by DeJean. If this production has a flaw, it's the imbalance between the two leading ladies, whose ultimate partnership we never quite buy.

Still, the show is pure (guilty) pleasure, from O'Hurley's effortlessly grand line-readings to the high-voltage vocals of Carol Woods' Matron "Mama" Morton. And Kevin Carolan's Amos Hart strikes surprising notes of humor and bitterness, making the hurt behind the lines in "Mr. Cellophane" truly transparent.

That's the genius of this "Chicago" staging: Everyone's putting on an act, but they're real people. Real people who look amazing in black lingerie. REVIEW

Chicago

John O'Hurley plays greedy defense attorney Billy Flynn in this touring production based on the hit Broadway revival. 2 1/2 hours. Mature content.

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Belk Theatre, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, 130 N. Tryon St. ADMISSION:

$20-$61.

DETAILS: (704) 372-1000 or www.blumenthalcenter.org.