Boy, those were the days: Celebrity scandal was all the rage, splashed across the news media with bloody, bold-type gusto. Slick, high-priced lawyers allowed their big clients to get away with murder, metaphorically and literally.
Even minor stars, relative nobodies, could play their cards right and parlay a little jail time into a reputation approaching infamy.
When, exactly, was this? Sure, the 1920s — the era of Windy City gangster Al Capone and the sorts of media-frenzied celebrity murders that eventually spawned Kander and Ebb’s riotous swing musical, “Chicago.”
But it also fit the mid-1990s, when the O.J. Simpson trial was in full froth, and celebrity scandal was back in the public consciousness and screaming from tabloid covers. It couldn’t have been more apropos, then, for a moody, minimalist revival of “Chicago” to hit Broadway.
Alas, the times, they have a-changed. “Chicago” doesn’t exactly speak to our base popculture curiosities anymore. No current stage musical, frankly, does. (At least until someone whips up something like “Tom-Kat!” or “One Night in Paris: The Musical.”)
It’s against this that the current Broadway touring company comes snapping and high-kicking and Bob Fossegrooving its way into Gammage Auditorium for a one-week stint. Four years after a popular film version, three years since Phoenix Theatre staged its own raucous and wonderful little production, and two years after a tour starring (ugh) Tom “Dukes of Hazzard” Wopat tripped its way onto the Dodge Theatre stage, the latest iteration does next to nothing to pump new razzle-dazzle into this slowly fizzling, frustratingly middling musical.
If you’ve seen it before, there’s barely any need to see it again. (And if you’ve never seen it before, you’re better off renting the movie.)
This “Chicago” tour exists mostly as an elephant’s graveyard for washed-up television bohunks from the ’70s and ’80s to slick back their hair, slip into a tuxedo and play slimy lawyer Billy Flynn, a puppeteer of both the media and jury for a price — a price that vaudeville performers Velma Kelly (here played by Terra MacLeod) and Roxie Hart (Michelle DeJean), both stuck in the hoosegow on murder charges, are willing to pay.
This time around, the TV idol is Gregory Harrison, a middle-aged “Trapper John, M.D.” and “Falcon Crest” alum, looking dapper in that black tux but sporting charisma coated in Teflon. His voice is underpowered and unimpressive, something shy of a cruise ship crooner without the schmaltz. (Considering his lack of stage presence, even schmaltz would have been an interesting touch.)
Though there’s little fresh sizzle in this tour stop — the choreography, the band playing center stage in a kind of oversize jury box, the swaths and swaths of fishnet stocking and push-up lingerie, everything’s still the same — though DeJean and MacLeod give serviceable performances.
MacLeod, who recently replaced Brenda Braxton on the road, is a slinky treat who’s a little bit ballet, a little bit Wednesday Addams. And redheaded DeJean can’t help but draw comparisons to another redhead, Lucille Ball, especially when she’s animatedly flailing on the lap of Harrison as a puppet in “We Both Reached for the Gun.”
But their chemistry is nothing to write home about, and ultimately they’re not distinctive enough to justify the ticket price on a trip to this Chi-town murder musical.
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Gammage Auditorium, 1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe
Information: (480) 965-3434 or www.asugammage.com