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Chicago - The Musical
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da Joel Grey
2.All That Jazz (from Chicago)
4.Cell Block Tango
5.When You're Good to Mama
6.All I Care About
7.A Little Bit of Good
8.We Both Reached for the Gun
10.I Can't Do It Alone
11.I Can't Do It Alone (Reprise)
12.My Own Best Friend
14.I Know a Girl
15.Me and My Baby
17.When Velma Takes the Stand
21.Hot Honey Rag
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The cast is uniformably excellent; Ann Reinking is a playful powerforce as Roxie Hart, Bebe Neuwirth's dry wit serves her well as the bitchy Velma Kelly, James Naughton is the epitome of suave as crooked lawyer Billy Flynn, Joel Grey is the perfect foil for Roxie as the henpecked Amos Hart, Marcia Lewis' powerful voice brings Matron 'Mama' Morton to life, and D. Sabella's breathtaking operatic chops are put to the test with gender-bending sob sister Mary Sunshine.
Rob Fisher's unparalled musical direction enlivens each and every recording that he conducts for, and CHICAGO is no exception. Brassy, well-paced and evocative, his direction is fantastic under the renowned Coffee Club Orchestra.
Ann Reinking's vocal style is fine; her singing is quite character-driven, and one can forgive her lack of singing finesse on the fact that she IS Roxie Hart, and danced the role for all its worth.
Numbers like "All That Jazz", "Funny Honey", "Cell Block Tango", "When You're Good to Mama", "Mister Cellophane", "Nowadays" and "Roxie" are all show-stoppers. I've said it many times; this score is simply dud-free, and in my opinion only rivals CABARET as Kander and Ebb's greatest score.
1.Overture- Great music, 4 stars
2.All That Jazz- Love Velma's voice, great kaereoke song, 5 stars
3.Funny Honey- Lovely song about Roxie and Amos's love, 5 stars
4.Cell Block Tango- Film version of this song is better, 3 stars
5.When You're Good to Mama- Marcia's voice is perfect, 5 stars
6.All I Care About- Better version than the film by far, 5 stars
7.A Little Bit of Good- Interesting..., 3 1/2 stars
8.We Both Reached for the Gun- One word... fun, 5 stars
9.Roxie- Ann Reinking's best performance, 4 1/2 stars
10.I Can't Do It Alone- I love this song, 5 stars
11.I Can't Do It Alone (reprise)- Not really a song, 3 1/2 stars
12.My Own Best Friend- Roxie and Velma's duet, 4 stars
13.Entr'Acte- Fun to listen to, 4 stars
14.I Know A Girl- Witty song about Velma's jealousy, 4 1/2 stars
15.Me and My Baby- Cute song about Roxie's new "baby", 5 stars
16.Mister Cellophane- Amo's life story, very sad, 5 stars
17.When Velma Takes the Stand- Self explainable, 4 stars
18.Razzle Dazzle- Interesting song, 5 stars
19.Class- Powerful and funny song, 5 stars
20.Nowadays-Good song, 4 stars
21.Hot Honey Rag- Very fun music, 5 stars
22.Finale- Great ending, 4 stars
In general, this cast is something of an improvement over the original, especially in the field of singing, although the acting is a little off in some cases. Bebe Neuwirth has turned the mood-setting "All that jazz" into a true show-stopper, combining seduction and snobbery to form a Goddess-like feel that will make any man melt. She continues this throughout the score, adding a touch of cynical grit when appropriate, and dazzling us with her stunning, hypnotic vocal beauty.
The only performer to surpass Ms. Neuwirth is Joel Gray, who is in his sixties, but still sounds almost as wonderful as he did in Cabaret. Thank God his voice didn't fade, as so many do. His acting is perfect, stunning, turning Amos from an outright idiot to an immensely naive, sweetly pathetic slave to his own love for Roxie. Amos was already my favorite character (I've always been intrigued by his being the one decent person in the Chicago cast), but I absolutely worship Gray's interpretation of him.)
As for the rest of the cast, Mama Morton is actually a good bit scarier and more fascinating in this version. James Naughton as Billy Flynn sings far better than Jerry Orbach, but his acting is nowhere near as good. Mary Sunshine is less impressive than in the original, and her dark secret (which I won't reveal, as it would spoil the surprise) is less well hidden. Also, quite apart from that, she is simply a less effective singer, though still so talented that I have little right to complain.
However, the real reason I gave this recording four stars rather than five is twofold; first, my favorite song, the sardonic humor number "Cell Block Tango", is rather ruined by the addition of sub-par singers and actresses and the lack of subtlety in line delivery. And secondly...
Anne Reinking, the star, was clearly chosen both for her dancing abilities and because she was the late Bob Fosse's wife, which made her an ironically fitting choice to succeed Gwen Verdon, the original Roxie and also Fosse's ex-wife. However, Reinking _completely_ misinterprets Roxie, portraying her as a vicious, drooling psychopath. The original Roxie was meant to be portrayed as selfish, cynical, extremely shrewd and cunning, and in general far _too_ sane, to the point of being almost pure evil. In addition, Reinking's singing, while certainly tolerable, is slightly sub-par in comparison to the rest of the cast. This is mainly a problem because Roxie is, after all, the star, and thus the most crucial role of all in the play, although she thankfully has a relatively minor role on this CD compared to Ms. Neuwirth.
Despite this, I simply cannot pick a favorite from the main pair of Chicago recordings. Both are a must have, and as an intro to the actual music, this one is more flattering due to its stars' greater vocal talent. If you like cynical humor, fast, jazzy music, Bebe Neuwirth, or Joel Gray, get this CD. You'll love it.
The original production surfaced in 1975 & was completely overshadowed by "A Chorus Line" (which came out at the same time), but the voices and orchestrations are so much more improved in this 1996 revival cd.
The best tracks include:
All That Jazz [Bebe Neuwirth makes this standard her own]
Cell Block Tango [great staging/lyrics]
When You're Good To Mama
All I Care About [James Naughton introduces us to Billy Flynn]
We Both Reached For The Gun
Roxie [Ann Reinking's big song, though her dancing is better than her voice]
Nowadays [a classic!]
A MUST have!
A) The Music: Identifiable yet unique, sing-along yet cynical. That all gives multiple layers of depth to the story line where women are driven over the edge and hire a "silver-tounged" lawyer to make a mockery of the judicial system, turning the women into stars, in the process. Of course, the lead off number "And All That Jazz" is a ragtime romp laced with bluesy licks and dixieland character, and that sets the atmosphere for the entire production, which barely contains a non-memorable number. Kander and Ebb have masterfully given life to song after song that uses the musical backdrops and sarcastic lyrics to grow by feeding off one another. Second song "Funny Honey" doesn't stray too far from the musical territory established by the opener, but now the music is restrained, more subtle, ready to bubble over any minute - like a silent serpant ready to go in for the kill. John Kander uses just the right moment to modulate a half step and explode into heavy rag, as it collides with Fred Ebb's pushing character Roxie over the edge.
What's nice about this show, is several characters have a song all to their own, to sum up his or her role to the audience, and thus each of these numbers takes on a personality of its own: "When You're Good To Mama" (the prisoners' lenient liason to the outside world), "All I Care About Is Love" (Smooth Talking Lawyer Billy Flynn basks in the spotlight), "A Little Bit of Good" (find this one out for yourself), "Roxie" (main character Roxie's lament to her own life dreams), "Mister Cellophane" (one of the best songs, an ode to anyone who feels left out), etc. etc.
The show itself clocks in at just over 2 hours, and this soundtrack is well over one hour - so, you pretty much get most of the show, as there is very little dialogue between scenes that needs to be edited for the cd anyway.
B) Interpretation: First of all, it is a given that not everyone will ever agree on a preferred performance. I know nostalgia is a strong bug, so it surely isn't a horrible thing if a recording of the pre-revival days is your cup of tea. Still, much needs to be said about this recording right here. As I said, I just saw the show in NYC, and I am also familiar with the mostly ultra-tasteful movie adaptation. Perhaps this is because the actors have to do it every day of their lives, but I find the recording has MUCH more personality and creative wit than it would need for a merely adequate rating. Don't get me wrong, the live show is great, and maybe I just caught an unspired performance, but let's get real - when you're recording a cd, there's such a thing as overdubs, i.e. doing it till you get it right. It is recorded and mixed with such fresh crispness and polish, we'll never know if it took highly abnormal techniques to get what we hear - but what we hear is good, and any fault one finds with it may just come down to personal preference. At the live show, I wanted more accentuations, more voice fluxuations, more life in the characters - keep in mind, however, don't get so used to the recording that you can't tolerate anything else!!! But as for the cd, Ann Reinking is overflowing with character (as Roxie), and some conservatives may not like that - but for a show like this, you really need individuality - and as a bonus, there's no weak link. From Bebe Neuwirth's convincing portrayal as a star that has fallen (as Velma Kelly) to the comical Tina Paul who portrays Hunyak, an inmate who only knows two words in English, the generally minimal cast gets the job done - and then some. I'll take quality over quantity any day.
I'm not slow to find fault - truth is, I'm quite hard pressed to find a weak link to this cd. I still suggest the movie soundtrack in ADDITION to this, as both are full of character that is slightly different from one another, but this recording isn't a bad place to start. Every song is unique, but all of the songs function well into the whole story and musical. Unlike many of the shallower, sappy musicals that would rather play ignorant to the overall corruption of society (then and now), Chicago (i.e. Kander and Ebb) isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers. And who are we to complain? We get entertained in the process!