‘Chicago’ brings vanity, crime and cynicism to Seoul

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 13, 2017 - 15:22
  • Updated : Jun 13, 2017 - 18:14
The musical ”Chicago“ needs no introduction: from being the second-longest running show in Broadway history after “Phantom of the Opera,” to its six Tony Awards with its 1996 revival.

The song and style feels as modern now as it did upon its unveiling, with its clever cynicism and winks at the audience standing out today as it did in 1975.

The US production of the musical -- running in Seoul until July 23 -- seeks to capture the magic of the original show through Broadway casting and staff. Hosted by Seensee Company and cast by US Tour Company, it marks the second time ”Chicago“ has landed in Seoul in its original production. 

A scene from the musical “Chicago,” which runs until July 23 at Samsung Electronics Hall in Hannam-dong, Seoul. (Seensee Company)

Staying true to the Broadway version, the staging is kept as simple as possible with the orchestra placed at an elevated stage in the center. It leaves the cast and the ensemble to maneuver in the remaining stage.

“Our minimalist set and lighting reflect Chicago’s theme of entrapment. Less site-specific, the production moves fluidly not from place to place, but from one emotional context to the next,” noted director Walter Bobbie. “The characters in ‘Chicago’ are trapped -- either in prison or in the legal system, or trapped by their own fame, lust, greed, ambition.”

Adding story to the minimal stage are the scantily-clad performers, whose provocative movement tests the imagination of the viewers to the limits as they precariously venture through murder, deception and betrayal throughout the heroines’ tantalizing drama.

“This is Chicago, kid,” the show says through the silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn, who manipulates the press to conduct the not guilty verdict for his two femme fatale clients.

A scene from the musical “Chicago,” which runs until July 23 at Samsung Electronics Hall in Hannam-dong, Seoul. (Seensee Company)

Terra C. Macleod reprises the role of Velma Kelly, a fatal vaudevillian on trial for killing her cheating husband and sister. She takes the audience in her grasp almost immediately upon her entrance with the opening number “All That Jazz.” Her desperate struggle to stay in the limelight through “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “When Velma Takes The Stand” is depicted in a manner that still has her demanding the center stage.

Standing opposite her is Dylis Croman, also reprising the role of Roxie Hart she played on Broadway. The wannabe vaudevillian snaps when she is dumped by her extramarital partner, and the audience is introduced to her spoiled, self-obsessed, yet comical character in numbers like “Funny Honey” and “Roxy.”

Brent Allen Barrett captures the essence of cold, narcissistic, yet surprisingly-charming Billy Flynn who announces his entrance through “All I Care About.” Barrett‘s performance of “We Both Reached for the Gun” depicts his tactics to manipulate the media in a hilarious, yet poignant way.

The theme of manipulation, betrayal and selfishness appears on point in 2017 as it did in 1975. Drawing the short straw of the bargain is ever-lovable doofus of Amos Hart, played by Ron Orbach.

Orbach’s performance as dim-witted, but loyal husband drew an especially favorable reaction from the Korean audience, who cheered with loving pity as he sang the number “Mr. Cellophane.”

An actress demanding the stage with limited time was Roz Ryan, once again playing the role of “Mama” Morton, the prison matron.

Just as Morton has the inmates on her strings, Ryan commands the audience with her sheer presence and her constant breaking of fourth wall; blowing kisses to members of the audience and demanding that they cheer for her. Just as the inmates do, the audience delightedly complies.

A scene from the musical “Chicago,” which runs until July 23 at Samsung Electronics Hall in Hannam-dong, Seoul. (Seensee Company)

The show has become a classic, toying with ideas that are essentially timeless, and the music and choreography pull the audience in each time it is staged.

While promoted widely as the “original production,” the Korean showing does more than just seek to repeat the success on the US side. It attempts to create a captivating experience in venturing through the light and darkness of early 20th century Chicago on the stages of Seoul.

“Chicago” is staged at Samsung Electronics Hall in Hannam-dong, Seoul. The performances are held at 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, and 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Tickets range from 40,000 won to 140,000 won, and the show runs for two hours and 35 minutes, including a 20 minute intermission.

By Yoon Min-sik