My husband and I went to go see Chicago at the Denver Center on Wednesday night. This is the first of our six shows we'll be seeing this season. So here is my review; written from the tiny podium of a public school teacher of Drama.
As much as I hate to admit it, my first experience seeing Chicago was the 2002 film by Directed Rob Marshall. Part of me wishes that had not been my introduction to Chicago, because of course I entered with plenty of pre-conceived notions and expectations... That's not to say that I didn't beg my dad at the age of five to go see it… For some reason he wasn't convinced that he HAD to get me tickets! Cabaret neither, huh…. Anyway, what I can say is that at least the film got me to be highly enthusiastic fan who couldn't wait to get in to see the real deal.
So as I sat in my theater seat through the first act, I came to a couple of unsettling realizations. First, I was disappointed by the lack of power in the female characters. Two, I was left feeling lack luster by the staging. And third, I was totally ashamed that I, of all people, would be upset that it…. Ugh, "wasn't like the movie." I absolutely hate it when anyone complains that the book was not like the film, the film was not like the book, the play was not like the movie, the movie was not like the play, or any combination of these ignorant whines. Come on, now, really? They are not meant to be the same! There are multiple ways adapting art to art. I even teach this to my own students so that they will gain not only a tolerance, but a taste for creative adaptations.** Art that simply duplicates and replicates it's inspiration piece is uncreative, and well, uninspirational.
I should not have wanted to see the film on stage. I knew that walking in, I didn’t expect to see the film on the stage. My beef laid with the fact that the original musical did not offer some of those themeatical qualities that got me hooked on Chicago to begin with.
What I loved about the film was that the women were empowered, yet misguided. I saw this as film about women attempting to find their own voice in a time full of misdirection, violence, and wrecklessness. These were women who did not have real role models in 20s Chicago. Those that were admired, and seen as strong pillars, were the vaudeville girls. These women had powerful men wrapped around their fingers, while their meek female counterparts were being beaten by their husbands at home. Taken to an extreme, the heroines killed their oppressors and still sparkled.
Of course, the real tragedy unfolds when their reliance upon the easiest road to control leads to their ultimate failing. These women fell upon the simplest tool they had towards gaining the upper hand: their sexuality. This gained the some ground, some temporary power, but what was the next step? Using men as their only example, they turned to violence. Violence learned from their husbands and gangs of thugs, the women began to "reach for the gun." But in the end, these mistaken attempts at achieving true power, led to reliance upon men once again. Billy Flynn's puppetiering captures this point nicely. It is not until the final number that Roxie and Velma just barely start to give us a slight hint of a real possibility for the success of women. Velma and Roxie put aside their catty hatred and jealousy to work together, imperfect as they both know each other was.
Now, back to the live play. The performances of the female convicts (Roxie and Velma included), were absolutely horrifying. They acted like complete imbeciles… no, stupid bimbos puts it better. The cell block tango was kind of like watching something from the latest installment of "Legally Blonde." So I wasn't just disappointed by the lack of scenery (although, it is supposed to give us the ol' razzle dazzle), or it's overall dissimilarity to the film version. It was the fact the at the theme seemed completely lost. As I left for intermission, I felt such a sense of being let down. I thought they had succeeded in creating a very shallow musical about "silly flappers knocking off their hubbies just because they thought it was 'silly.' " ughhhhh….
As I re-entered the theater, I slunked back down into my chair. But then, a happy surprise! Not only the second act give me the "razzle dazzle" and all that jazz. (In fact, I was temporarily blinded by the razzle dazzle at one point…) But I also I saw a slightly darker side to the entire feel of the musical. There was a sinister sense given to the jail, the courtroom, the "circus."
Now, Roxie, unfortunately continued to at like a complete moron. But suddenly, I was seeing the overall concept and plan behind this directorial decision. The lines about the courtroom antics, the ease of fooling the justice system take on light never seen in the film. It becomes clear to me that the "lost, misguided fool" of this play is not the female role model, but the American Justice system. Chicago has the ability to be slanted in either direction. The director may choose to slant it towards the budding female roles in American society, or the budding Justice System. Ah! There is was! The substance that I feared was lacking. The women had to be portrayed as idiots because there was such a pointed focus on how even these "bimbos" who didn't have a clue were able to outwit the courts.
I will admit that since my own sensibilities slant towards feminism just slightly more than legal balance, I still do like the choices of Rob Marshall. However, I can fully appreciate the artistic choices of this particular musical. I really do love it when directors find the multiple layers of a script, focus their version on a single point, and do not fear the "predisposed audience" like myself.
Overall, I truly enjoyed the show. I felt that the performances were strong, although there were a few weak points in singing. As can sometimes be the disappointing way of plays, even the most ignorant of audiences can sometimes point out chorus members or supporting actors that stole the show from the mediocre leads. I am speaking of a couple of the cell block girls, Amos, and Mary Sunshine. They stole the show while Roxie, Velma, Billy Flynn, and Momma Morton left something to be desired at times. Makes me wonder if I too am sometimes running the risk of falling into "director's tunnel vision" in casting. Kick me if I do. Thanks!
Okay, I've said my very long winded peace… Now go see the musical when it comes into your town and argue with me if you disagree. Much love, Keckie!
** In case you are not familiar with these adaptation styles, in most cases they can be broken into "thematically inspired," "plot inspired," or "direct translation." Thematically inspired would be something like Apocalypse Now being born from Heart of Darkness. Plot Inspired would be something like Ten Things I Hate About You from The Taming of the Shrew. And Direct Translation might be something like Zefferelli's Hamlet and Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Monday, February 09, 2009