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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Dancing to the tune of celebrity

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

So many brilliant people were involved in the creation of the stage musical Chicago - Bob Fosse, Ann Reinking, John Kander, Fred Ebb - that it's hard to know who gets the credit.

This much is clear, however: Chicago has the single sexiest opening number, "All That Jazz," that I've ever seen on the stage.

From the moment the black-clad ensemble struts into view, with their stylized hand movements and in various states of undress, Chicago dares the audience not to have fun.

The show, which continues through Sunday in the Stranahan Theater, may be set in the 1920s, but its relevance to the modern fascination with celebrity misdeeds is strong.

Terra MacLeod and Michelle DeJean play, respectively, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who are in jail in Chicago, charged with murdering the men in their lives.

Velma is currently enjoying the spotlight of celebrity, but it isn't long before Roxie captures the imagination of the press and the public, and she isn't about to allow Velma to climb back on top.

Abetting both women is "Mama" Morton, the matron of the women's jail, who's always on the lookout for a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" situation. Accurately assessing Roxie's star power, she hooks the accused murderess up with Velma's slick lawyer, Billy Flynn, who knows how to finessse public opinion and play the judicial system like a puppet-master.

MacLeod and DeJean have appeared on Broadway as Velma and Roxie, and both wear their characters like a second skin.

MacLeod's Velma is brittle and calculating, the star among the "Merry Murderesses of the Cook County Jail." She sets the tone for the proceedings in the opening number and only shows vulnerability when she begins to lose the headlines.

DeJean is a combination of innocence and cunning. Her awareness of the power of celebrity grows throughout the show until she's in danger as being as brittle as Velma. This is not to say she's a nice person, but she is fascinating. We don't want to like her, but she makes us.

The role of Billy Flynn often goes to celebrities, including Louis Gossett, Jr., Taye Diggs, and Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson. Toledo gets Tom Wopat, known for playing Luke Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard in the 1980s. Wopat first appeared on Broadway in the role of Billy Flynn in 2004. If Wopat's body language was occasionally stilted in Wednesday's opener, he nonetheless nailed Flynn's smarmy egotism. A scene in which he orchestrates Roxie's introduction to the press is a highlight.

The only really sympathetic character is Amos, Roxie's husband, played by Kevin Carolan. As he sings "Mr. Cellophane," his lament that people look right through him, he gently sways from side to side, looking like one of those inflatable punching bags. It is an apt comparison.

Carol Woods as Mama Morton steals the show every time she's on stage. She belts out her introductory song with a huge voice that underscores her authority and a nudge and a wink that indicates she can be bought, if the price is right. Woods, too, played her role on Broadway, and her ease with the character is evident.

Too often the national tours that Toledo gets have newcomers in the roles, and while they're long on charm, they're a little short on skill.

There are no such problems with this tour of Chicago. It's filled with Broadway veterans, whose talents have been fine- tuned by experience.

This is one not to be missed.

"Chicago" continues in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $23 to $54. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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