Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. And she’s a member of Muscle Nation.
A lone chair sits on a darkened stage, a bowler hat perched on its back. A barely clad woman struts out, grabs the hat, her abs glistening in the spotlight. Sounds like the making of a great night, right? Something salacious just might happen.
And you’re pretty much right in your thinking. I mean that’s the premise of Chicago: two sexy ladies are imprisoned for killing their lovers, and through a series of bumps and grinds, jazz and minstrel show moves, and struts, we fall in love with them, chanting along, “uh huh, not guilty.”
The touring production of the musical Chicago that opened Tuesday at the AT&T Performing Arts Center was entertaining and fit the bill constructed by the original creators Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and composer John Kander. It was a show with an attitude that never softened. Equal amounts of cynicism and compassion broke through that fourth wall and directly addressed the audience. And as the evening went on, we fell more in love with Velma, Roxie and the other “Merry Murderesses” in the Cook County Jail. We began to crave the tantalizing effects of decadence and debauchery. Because the actors did their jobs: They hit all the jokes, the orchestra was spot-on, and we cheered at all the dance numbers.
But should we have?
A point of clarity: The touring production is using choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse,” and his style is a hard one to mimic. Fosse gave dance a freedom that is enviable and incomparable. Using minimal and precise movements and giving each appendage value and importance, Fosse found the beauty in a dancer’s neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger. The steps are always small, the ensemble always moves in precise unison, and the body always responds – the chest never stops undulating; the breath never goes away. Fosse is Broadway; it is theater dance at its jazzy finest. The lines are long and glorious, hips gyrate every up and downbeat, energy pulsates out of the fingertips and fills the stage, and sex underlines everything.
But here’s the secret to Fosse: understated beauty. It’s not about tricks; it’s not about how many pirouettes you can do in a row, or if you know how to do a back handspring. It’s about smoothness. It’s about jazz. It’s a slippery, slimy, sexy movement.
For the touring production, choreographer Ann Reinking, a Fosse companion and disciple, took on the task of re-creating the movement, and the work perfectly captures the style and mood down to the last head nod and piercing stare. She does add her own flavor, with maybe one too many pirouettes and acrobatic moves, which pulls focus but brings a “now” factor to the stage – something the audience seems to crave.
Overall, Reinking does a masterful job, but where the work falls a little flat is in the performance. Take the opening number, “All That Jazz”—probably one of the first song and dance numbers you think of when you recall Chicago. It should be a slap in the face, a burst of energy, a sensation for your eyes and ears. It should make you gyrate in your seat along with the scantily-clad dancers. It didn’t. It was low energy from the first hip thrust and slightly sloppy. Fosse is about precision, minute detail, and ease; this looked like work. “Roxie,” basically a solo number from Roxie Hart (Tracy Shayne) with some help from her merry band of men, didn’t come across the stage with enough pizzazz, and the same is true for “I Can’t Do It Alone,” Velma’s (Terra C. MacLeod) attempt at wooing Roxie to be in cahoots with her. Both leads had their characters down pat, but the dancing just needed a little boost, and little more energy.
Yet, Shayne found it in her duet with lawyer Billy Flynn (John O’Hurley) in their marionette-like “We Both Reached for the Gun.” It was the perfect balance between elastic and sharp movement. And it was just downright funny. Both Shayne and MacLeod shined in “Hot Honey Rag,” our final look at Roxie and Velma as they give us the middle finger and say, “we got you!” This piece used original choreography by Fosse, and the ladies performed it perfectly.
Other standout dance numbers came with the female chorus’ neurotically nuanced performances in “Cell Block Tango,” the male chorus in “Tap Dance” and the whole cast in “Razzle Dazzle.”
The charm of Chicago is that we get so sucked into the story that we are having too much fun to notice that we have been cheering for the release of murderers, that we have thrown our morals out the window. It’s a fun ride, no matter how you look at. And while the choreographic craft pays homage to a master, it might not be the best example of all that Fosse can offer performatively. It is, however, an entertaining production and, for any budding jazz dancer in the audience, an inspirational source.
Chicago runs through Aug. 26.