Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007 | Murder makes for front-page news but it, along with corruption, greed, exploitation and celebrity, also makes great fodder for the musical “Chicago.” These themes, mixed with Ann Reinking’s sexy, sleek choreography and hot, jazzy music make for a great show. But with the right cast n as in the company performing in San Diego this week — you’ve got a sensationally steamy production.

Starting off with a bang, “Chicago’s” crackling opening number, “All That Jazz,” showcases the unstoppable energy of the cast. Dressed in minimal costumes, the dancers are bathed in stark lighting that allows the audience to focus on their bodies and their non-stop moves. Set inside a large gold frame, the orchestra sits onstage comprising the only stage scenery. The larger-than-life characters of “Chicago” don’t need flowery backgrounds or props.

Sent to prison for cold-bloodedly killing her lover, chorus-girl Roxie Hart’s (Michelle DeJean) story makes front-page news. But the murderesses in her cell-block don’t appreciate her stealing the spotlight, especially killer Velma Kelly.

Based on two real-life Chicago women accused of murder and written by the Chicago Tribune reporter who covered their cases, the play was then adapted to a musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb along with famed choreographer Bob Fosse. Opening in 1975 for a two-year run, the original show starred Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon and Jerry Orbach. The 1996 Broadway revival featured the slick, still-used Fosse-inspired choreography by Ann Reinking.

As Roxie, Michelle DeJean triumphantly exhibits a huge range of character and voice: from dusky-voiced, scheming killer to bubbly-voiced, innocent sweetheart. DeJean alternates nicely between a femme fatale and a Betty Boop persona. A triple-threat, DeJean attacks the dynamic role of Roxie; singing, dancing and acting with expert skill. Watch for her delightful, physically comic performance in the ventriloquist act number “We Both Reached for the Gun.”

Velma Kelly introduces the women prisoners and their stories with “Cell Block Tango,” one of the best numbers in the show for its sheer, wicked fun. Sultry, magnificent Velma (Terra C. MacLeod) can’t stand losing her celebrity killer status to newcomer Roxie. MacLeod’s beautiful, husky voice and her elegant dance moves make her simply mesmerizing onstage. I could not take my eyes off of her. And she gives Velma the perfect amount of sardonic wit.

Roz Ryan brings in the big guns vocally in her role as the corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton, especially bringing down the house during her “When You’re Good to Mama.” But her duet with Velma, “Class,” was my favorite for its vocal harmonies.

Though Roxie and Velma are the meat of the plot, the company here operates as the heartbeat of the show. Consistently excellent, the chorus members keep the rhythm going, dancing with sensual fluidity and ease. They also act as story narrators and handle supporting roles (the prosecutor, the judge.) The seductive dance routines will move you, such as the “Tap Dance Specialty.” But watch the background for the chorus-members’ attention to details, for example the two who act as the collective jury at Roxie’s trial.

George Hamilton (yes, the tan George Hamilton) oozes charm as illustrious lawyer Billy Flynn. He’s perfect for the role: dapper, charming and smooth as silk. The audience loved him and responded every time he took the stage.

As Amos Hart, Roxie’s long-suffering husband, Eric Leviton was an audience favorite. His “Mister Cellophane” act was a deserved, surprise stand-out. R. Bean’s divine interpretation of Mary Sunshine, the saccharine reporter with a soft-spot for Billy Flynn, was another surprise.

The “Chicago” orchestra sounded great, never drowning out the singers. The musicians and conductor occasionally interacting with performers was a nice touch.

The movie version of “Chicago” a few years back was wildly successful, but there’s nothing like seeing this production on intimately, onstage. Do yourself a favor and go see “Chicago” live.

“Chicago” runs through Sunday at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For tickets and information call (619) 570-1100 or visit

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