Theater Notes
by Pablo A. Tariman

Reviewing the story of “Chicago” is like turning a page in the history of Philippine justice system.

It is largely based on a 1926 play of the same title and based on a reporter’s account of high profile crime and criminals. But in this musical, the lead characters Terra MacLeod (Velma Kelly) and Bianca Marroquin (Roxie Hart) are all accused of murdering their husband and lover and throughout the musical, we see snatches from trial scenes and press conferences revolving around high profile lawyers and defendants made to look despondent and pitiful in the hope of swaying the decision of the jury.

Scene from "Chicago."  The musical has a lot to say about how media make glorified celebrities out of criminals.

Scene from “Chicago.” The musical has a lot to say about how media make glorified celebrities out of criminals.

The musical’s intro is virtual déjà vu of Philippine society in motion.

With the Philippine media full of accounts of senators in jail, a scam queen lying through her teeth in a senate hearing, high profile lawyers invoking innocence of their clients on prime time television, tale of murdered husband set up by own wife and lover and the likes – you would think “Chicago” is unraveling in the Philippines.

The musical’s intro read thus: “Welcome. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery. All those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.”

By and large, the musical – as one released noted — is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal.”

With the story told in song and dance cabaret style, we get to see the human side of the celebrated criminals and why high profile lawyers behave the way they do.

All throughout the highly engrossing musical, Filipinos are being given the idea that they can make something entertaining about local celebrities behind bars.

But that is going ahead of the story.

The lead stars of "Chicago" Terra MacLeod (Velma Kelly) and Bianca Marroquin (Roxie Hart). Captivating duo.

The lead stars of “Chicago” Terra MacLeod (Velma Kelly) and Bianca Marroquin (Roxie Hart). Captivating duo.

For all its dark characters, “Chicago” is riveting theater entertainment on the life and times of shadowy but celebrated people.

The songs (“Cell Block Tango,” “”When You’re Good To Mama” and “We Both Reached Out for the Gun”) say a lot human and truly vulnerable about jailbirds and jailers.

When Mary Sunshine (C. Newcomer) belted out her “A Little Bit of Good” with operatic flourishes, you realize there is a bit of goodness in every accused person and you come to terms with what defendants go through and indeed how operatic (and soap opera-like) people’s lives are during court hearings.

One rather likes the way Newcomer gave the song its poignant side as he intones –

I can still remember what
My mother said to me…
Place rose colored glasses on your nose
And you will see the robins
Not the crows
For in the tense and tangled web
Our weary lives can weave
You’re so much better off
If you believe….
That there’s a little bit of good
In everyone
In everyone you’ll ever know

The lead performers (MacLeod as Velma Kelly, Marroquin as Roxy Hart) carried the show with as much élan distilled with sarcasm and we see a lot about the high profile lawyer in Jeff McCarthy who acted with dispatch as Billy Flynn.

The ensemble is a versatile lot and one can see how they pull out acting, dancing and singing with great ease and endless stamina.

Conducted by Robert Billig, the apt music of Kanders jibed with the clever choreography of Ann Reinking.

The costume design of William Ivey Long and the set design of John Lee Beatty farther dazzled with the lighting design of Ken Billington.

With this production, the technical savvy of Solaire’s The Theater was farther tested and how!

Even as the musical’s story as true-to-life resonance in home grounds, one finds reward that in gruesome stories, theater can make delightful spoof and satire of both the media and judicial set-up in any society.

The musical tells us how media make celebrities out of criminals and how lawyers make a killing out of distressed clients. In one presscon dancing, Reinking’s choreography magnifies that statement twice over.

Indeed, you can laugh your heart out in this musical satire and still be reduced to tears upon realizing how true those theatrical episodes are even in present society.

Poster of  "Chicago." It is  a dazzling musical that tells us the jarring truth about the justice system in any given society here and abroad.

Poster of “Chicago.” It is a dazzling musical that tells us the jarring truth about the justice system in any given society here and abroad.

On the other hand, the casinos around the theater could have been an extended set of “Chicago” with you joining this rousing song thus –

Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it great?
Isn’t it swell? Isn’t it fun?
Isn’t it? Nowadays
There’s men
Everywhere jazz, everywhere booze
Everywhere life, everywhere joy
Everywhere, nowadays
You can like the life you’re livin’
You can live the life you like
But nothing stays in fifty years or so
It’s gonna change, you know
But oh, it’s heaven

At the end of the musical, you realize nothing has changed in the way people get justice and how they are far slow and disconcerting in some countries including our own.

“Chicago” is a dazzling musical that tells us the naked truth about the society we grow up with.

Note how this song — about how a big-time lawyer prefers compassion to fat fees — sounds like a typical politician campaign pitch –

There’s other kinds of love.
Like love of…justice. Love of… legal procedure. Love of lending a hand to someone who really needs you. Love of your fellow man.
Those kinds of love are what I’m talkin’ about. And physical love ain’t so bad either.
It may sound odd
But all I care about is love

* * *
(The Manila season of “Chicago” will run until December 21. For more information, call 891-9999. The musical is produced in Manila by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, David Atkins Enterprises and Concertus Manila.)
* * *

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