Some things never change. From the Roaring '20s in Chicago to Buffalo at the turn of the 21st century, America's appetite for stories of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery has remained insatiable.
And "Chicago," the dark Broadway musical that claims those vices as virtues, has never been more relevant. Or more popular.
Theater addicts craving a dose of that subversive medicine are advised to make their way directly to Shea's Performing Arts Center, where a gleaming production of the musical began its six-day run Tuesday night.
The production itself, which thrilled audiences on its first visit to Shea's in 2005, has only improved with age. As one of the slickest achievements in all of musical theater, the show deserves a production worthy of its creators' vision.
This tour delivers it with humor, ease and unbounding talent.
Bianca Marroquin and Terra MacLeod, who starred in the tour that visited Shea's in 2005, are still kicking away as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, the sexy murderesses at the heart of "Chicago" whose thirst for blood is matched only by their lust for fame.
Marroquin smiles, and it hits the back of the theater like a shotgun blast. She flirts us into submission with her coquettish charm in "Roxie," and she has us for the rest of the show.
As for MacLeod, she slips into Velma's slithery skin with a serpentine grace and the slightest undercurrent of sweetness. Tom Hewitt gives us the old razzle-dazzle in the role of skeeverific lawyer Billy Flynn, positively Balwinesque in his delivery with a confident basso profundo that endears us to him even while mocking itself. The heart-stopping moment of the show comes from Carol Woods as Mama Morton, whose unexpectedly florid delivery of "When You're Good to Mama" brings down the house. And Tom Riis Farrell's "Mr. Cellophane" is one to remember. If the thumping heart of "Chicago" is Bob Fosse's visionary choreography, brightened and reconceived here by Ann Reinking, its soul is in John Kander and Fred Ebb's magnificent score and lyrics.
The legendary songwriting pair crafted a clean and unremittingly clever tapestry of vaudeville-era tunes that goes beyond mere pastiche. It is a tribute in the best sense of the word, one that honors its sources without bathing in them with too much abandon.
For devotees of "Chicago," this production will only tighten its hypnotic grip.
And for all those innocent "Chicago" virgins out there, now's the time to indulge in the show's sinful pleasures.
Review: Four stars (out of four)
Musical opened Tuesday in Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. Performances continue through Sept. 27. For more information, call 852-5000 or visit www.sheas.org.