CHICAGO - Hollywood Pantages - Chris Cassone Review

Reviewed by Chris Cassone (

March 6, 2024 - in pouring rain

"Roxie. You got nothing to worry about. It's all a circus, kid. A three-ring circus.

This trial - the whole world - all show business."

The Twenties called and, boy, do they have a musical story for you. Only, it's not the Roaring Twenties, all champagne-popping and flapper hopping. No, it's the real world of love and lust and crimes of the heart. You see, Roxie Hart is on trial for her life and the only way off the gallows is to make the whole city a sucker -and get her off with her fame. Fame that she has because she is a murderess.

            Roxie Hart, played by Katie Frieden, entered the Pantages Theater last night with all the pre-trial publicity she could garner and had the audience in the palm of her hand. And young Frieden held it there all night. She was a joy to behold in all her different shades of character: the smug, tough girl who guns down her two-timing man, the whimpering victim of life's cruelties, the clever know-it-all caged criminal who only can see the big time upon her release and the risen-from-the-ashes Roxie and Vern show. Katie Frieden had an inside wink for us in audience all night. She kept smiling at us like a girlfriend, always including the audience in on her escapades.

            And come for the "We Both Reached for the Gun." The famous ventriloquist scene was done in top form last night and this was Frieden's perfect foil. She was made for the doll part as her smile and round eyes were perfect. But She had just the right amount of floppiness and her head bounce was even real. No, she became the dummy on stage in front of our eyes. Well done, young lady. And the fawning marionette press was perfectly no better!

            Velma Kelly wasn't far behind. Kalin Brown's high-kicking, stage-spinning, clear and sweet soprano on "Cell Block Tango" was something to behold. The insidious lyrics gave strength to her character as she and her girls sang, "He had it coming!" And she commanded the stage. Whether it was from the top of the ladder near the proscenium, the entrance under the orchestra of from the middle of the dancing pack. I couldn't take my eyes off her.

            That is, until Billy Flynn swaggered on. Glitz and glitter and a hefty attorney bill - he sounds like a dream team all in one. And even though we all knew he was offering a bad deal, he was so suave and debonair that we let it slide. Connor Sullivan and the producers pulled off the most amazing trick in the book. He made his case in the middle of a fan dance. And I mean a Ziegfield Follies fan dance! See this show just for this number.

Illeana Kirven laid down the law inside the jail as Matron Mama when she sang her "When You're Good to Mama." But "Illy" Kirven doesn't just sing. She belts. With the best of them.

"If you want my gravy
Pepper my ragout
Spice it up for Mama
She'll get hot for you."

Roxie's hapless but faithful husband, Amos, gave his showstopper, "Mr. Cellophane," and for an invisible nebbish, he brought the house down. Fun fact, the actual husband the playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins used for her original play, went bankrupt funding his no-account wife for her to dump him publicly on the courthouse steps after acquittal.

Two other main characters must be lauded in this hit revival. The company itself, the dancers/actors/players all were a joy to behold as they moved as one around the stage. And when they sang as one, the harmonies were divine, almost choir-like. But it was their dancing that earned them the medal of the night. They all seemed to be in constant movement as the swirled, jitterbugged, swayed, rolled, snapped and (thanks to Robin Williams) "Fossied" around the stage.

The unsung character of the night, the one who didn't get the roaring ovations during bows and the one to whom all is owed by the singers and actors, is of course the orchestra. This eleven-piece tour-de-force handled more than their share. In fact, they sounded at times like twice their size. With everyone handling multi-instruments, the subtle expressions of the muted horns, especially the growling trumpet were a course in how it's done. Cameron Blake Kinnear held it all together and got the best out of them all while he was the MC of the night from his place mid-stage.

The rain did not keep the sold-out house away and you should not miss this run. There is a lot of magic in this company. And, yes, it was all circus, kid. All show business.

Shows run to March 24

Posted By DH Magazine on March 15, 2024 05:55 pm | Permalink