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'Chicago' stars deliver perfect performance

When Bianca Marroquín and Terra MacLeod come to town, the only thing to do is clear your schedule.

The Broadway veterans, who slunk onto the stage of Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night at the top of their craft for the opening of a six-day run of “Chicago,” have a tendency to bring down the house.

They did it in 2005, the first time they appeared here together in the roles of Velma Kelly and Roxie Heart, two hardboiled women from the wrong side of Chicago hoping to transform their violent past into a lucrative future. They did it in 2009, when they reprised those timeless roles for the return of the spick-and-span “Chicago” national tour that sent shockwaves straight to the back row of the theater.

And they pulled it off again Tuesday, presenting an even more refined, confident and humorous take on one of the great musicals of the 20th century.

Any decent production of “Chicago,” which recently became the second longest-running show on Broadway behind “The Phantom of the Opera,” can send musical theater fans to ecstatic places.

For such fans, no matter how many times they’ve seen the show, it’s impossible not to marvel at the finely tuned interplay of its many moving parts.

During Tuesday’s show, I was struck anew by John Kander’s pastiche-perfect music, working in tandem with Fred Ebb’s sly, sexy and double-entendre-laden lyrics to drag the spirit of vaudeville gently along into the late 20th century. And I was stunned, as usual, by Ann Reinking’s faithful reanimation of Bob Fosse’s brilliant choreography, which somehow concentrates the mess, madness and sexual energy of the American metropolis into a few suggestive pelvic thrusts and shoulder shrugs.

The simple story, of two women struggling to redeem themselves in a town thirsty for tales of sex and murder – sound familiar?– provides the ideal backdrop for all this perfection to play out.

Since 2005, Marroquín has become supremely comfortable in the slithery skin of Roxie Hart, the frustrated would-be starlet who killed her lover and tried to pass the blame on to her milquetoast husband Amos (Jacob Keith Watson). In song after song, she combines choreographed coquettish mannerisms with a sotto voce delivery that hints at the Roxie’s devious nature without going overboard. She allows the various quirks she’s invented for Roxie to interfere with her delivery of Kander and Ebb’s work only once, at the top of the first act in “Funny Honey.” After that, she’s unimpeachable, proving that dynamic range is far more effective at building emotion than merely belting out a high-volume power ballad.

For her part, MacLeod owns the role of Velma Kelly, who must compete for the fickle attentions of the press against Roxie’s increasingly inventive tale of remorse and reinvention. Her world-weariness, the effortless way she holds those Fosse-esuqe poses, her performance of “All That Jazz”: all of it hits the sweet spot.

The rest of the cast, from an ensemble that might as well be mechanized for all its fidelity to the demanding choreography to the commanding performances of John O’Hurley as razzle-dazzle defense lawyer Billy Flynn and Roz Ryan as Mama Morton, rises to the challenge.

Few shows are as reliably enjoyable as “Chicago.” Few stars are as consistent as Marroquín and MacLeod. These kinds of match-ups made in musical theater heaven don’t come around often.

REVIEW

4 stars

[Read Colin Dabkowski's description of what constitutes a four-star review]

What: “Chicago”

Where: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.

When: Through Sunday

Tickets: $33 to $78

Info: 847-0850, www.sheas.org

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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