Murder and Deceit Frame the Musical 'Chicago'As the master of ceremonies says at the start of "Chicago," sex, murder and fame are the three favorite subjects in drama because they touch on everyone's secret voyeuristic desires. These themes and many others are the subject of the famous musical, now playing at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul. Legendary playwright Bob Fosse, responsible for such Broadway musical smash-hits as "Pippin" and "Big Deal," wrote and produced the original show.
"Chicago," described as "musical-noir," is about five women locked in Cook County Jail after committing nasty murders. The victims are mostly their partners who were caught with other women. However, the five murderesses insist on their innocence by singing their intro, "They Deserve to Die," thereby rejecting the moralistic interpretation of the show's narrative.
Velma Kelly, played by charismatic singer Insuni, shot her sister and boyfriend after finding them in bed. Velma's rival, Roxie Hart (Choi Jung-won), murdered her extra-marital lover when she finds that he is interested only in having sex with her. Roxie, a crude opportunist, lied to her faithful husband that the murder was in self-defense.
Roxy flatters Velma, who has earned the trust of jail matron Mama Morton. The matron helps to free the prisoners - and extorts money from their families in return. Roxy pretends she is on Velma's side in focusing media attention on Velma's plight. They want the case to be the front page "murder of the week" to get public sympathy. Then Velma can return to vaudeville where she used to perform with her sister. (Clear so far?)
But Roxy has her own plans, and aims to get on the front page herself. She steals Velma's lawyer, the manipulative Billy Flynn, who hypocritically sings "All I Care About is Love." Roxy even faints at a meeting with newspaper reporters, lying to them that she is pregnant.
Act Two introduces us to the show's famous nightclub scene, where Velma and Roxy sing "All That Jazz" as a vaudeville duo.
"Chicago" is a bitter critique of media hype. Reflecting the history of American musicals, which started as a form of cultural activism against classical operas, "Chicago" delves into the lives of marginalized groups in American society who were often excluded or misrepresented in the media.
The convincing portrayal of a media conspiracy is perhaps appropriate because the media had a hand in the musical's lukewarm reception in some cities when the show was first produced in 1975. The media criticized "Chicago" for lacking the spectacular sets of grand Broadway productions.
As might be expected, the most exhilarating part of "Chicago" is the choreography. Fosse, a dancer and a choreographer who studied everything from ballet to tap, provides exciting, provocative movement that adds flair and zest. Dramatic lighting gives plenty of atmosphere.
Choi Jung-won, star of such Cincee Musical Company blockbusters as "Rent" and "42nd Street," gives a fine performance along with partner Insuni, who gives a most compelling performance in her first appearance in a stage musical.
However, there is no clear boundary between the main characters and the peripheral roles. For instance, when Yun Hee-jung (Mama), an experienced jazz vocalist, roars on to the stage singing "When You're Good to Mama," she is indeed matron of the show. And Mary Sunshine, the woman journalist in charge of the newspaper's "murder-of-the-week" section, is a parody of herself, as her name suggests. To add a little twist to the chracter, Kim Ki-man, an actor who starred in "Gambler" and "Gunman," plays Mary.
And the band, under Karline Park, is a knockout.
"Chicago" is playing through Sunday. Shows are at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. except Friday. English translations are available. For information, phone 02-577-1987.
by Park Soo-mee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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