On June 24, Marilu Henner, best known as Elaine Nardo on TV’s Taxi, replaces actress-choreographer Ann Reinking as Chicago’s murderous Prohibition-era heroine, Roxie Hart. We fully support the talented, engaging Henner, but it’s hard to imagine that the revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 1975 masterpiece about criminally famous femmes fatales and all that jazz could get any better.
This spare, monumentally stylish production has become such a sensation this season that it already has unleashed a touring company (starring Jasmine Guy), and Madonna and Goldie Hawn have signed to star in Miramax’s prospective movie version. Among its six Tony awards was this season’s top choreography honor for Reinking, the muse of the late Bob Fosse, who choreographed the original two decades ago. Borrowing Fosse’s style, she puts her dancers in graceful, subtle flights of sex-tinged fancy, and the cast — led by Tony-winning Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton, Marcia Lewis and Joel Grey — is nothing short of perfect. Watch for Neuwirth’s solo rendition of a two-girl vaudeville act and Reinking’s impression of a ventriloquist’s dummy; both turns are sheer alchemy.
But the show’s joy — its giddy, edgy personality — is rooted in its own gleeful mean streak, evident in the jazzy tunes and devilishly clever lyrics that never sound dated. Though Reinking and Neuwirth are killers hoping to parlay their infamy into vaudeville careers, you root for them — the lesson being that in America even the most dubious fame can equal fortune. To paraphrase a lyric, this revival is heaven nowadays. (TC) A+