REVIEW BY TERESA
Lawless Peppers Our Ragu in "Chicago"
by Teresa Ortega,
When I first read that Lucy Lawless would be
appearing in the musical "Chicago" in New Zealand, my
first impulse was to price out the cost of air travel,
hotel and tickets. My second impulse was to sit quietly
in a darkened room, pondering my career and financial
choices and the harsh realities of the world we live in.
After I crept out of my despondency, I happened to
notice a few weeks later that a production of "Chicago"
would be coming to the Hollywood Bowl over the summer.
Noticing that the production was yet to be cast, I held
out hope that I might get to see Lucy Lawless perform in
"Chicago" closer to home.
When the cast was announced, Lucy Lawless was named to
play Matron "Mama" Morton, the same role filled by Queen
Latifah in the movie version of "Chicago." With Lucy set
play Velma Kelly in the New Zealand "Chicago
production later this year, those fans who can afford it
will have the opportunity to see Lucy in two different
roles in one musical.
The Hollywood Bowl is a legendary venue, but not without
its share of challenges--acoustic and otherwise--for
performance purposes. The morning I was scheduled to
attend "Chicago," the L.A. Times printed a piece
critiquing the new, large LED screens that offer
close-up detail of the stage to the Bowl's sizeable
The LED screens turned out to be essential for
"Chicago," as they provided the majority of the audience
with the means to see the dancing onstage. The size of
the Bowl would seem to work against most musicals, but
the artistic choices in this production made the best of
the Bowl's unique features.
The staging was compact yet imaginative, keeping the
audience's attention focused within the monumental
setting. Elegant lighting design underscored each
musical number, punctuating its most emotional moments.
A jazzy rhythm seemed to infect even the dialogue,
propelling the musical forward. This "Chicago" moved in
tight counterpoint to the Bowl's grandness, offsetting
it with distinction.
Matron "Mama" Morton was introduced in the first act
with the song "When You're Good to Mama." Her costume
combined elements of the outfits worn by the show's male
and female dancers: form-fitting black pants,
see-through black shirt and suspenders, and a black
bustier. The effect was Midwestern Bordello meets
Mid-Century Prison Matron.
Lucy's voice was as strong as I've ever heard it on
stage--maybe even it's strongest ever, taking into
consideration the size of the venue. Lucy's voice had an
impressive depth and fullness that conveyed the outsize
personality of Mama. I spoke with a friend in the
audience after the show--not a Xena or Lucy
Lawless fan--who remarked on the powerful impression she
When you're a fan that recognizes a star for "her
eyes, her hair, her teeth" and so on,
as the song goes, it can be difficult to take a step
back and look at a performance as part of a whole. It
was good to get a reality check in seeing and hearing
the audience respond positively to Lucy's introduction
Lucy had a continuing speaking role throughout the rest
of the musical, helping to set the pace. It was strange
to hear other characters refer to Mama onstage as
"Butch" or "Diesel." As a lesbian, I think my
butch-o-meter must be set so far to one end of the
scale that I have a hard time making sense of mainstream
uses of those terms. I would have liked to see a more
butch-looking Mama, but I think the glamorous version on
display was more in keeping with the tone of the show.
comedic timing served her well in the duet "Class,"
which busted up the audience. Watching Lucy perform the
song with Samantha Barks, who played Velma Kelly, it was
impossible not to cast my mind forward and imagine Lucy
playing the role of Velma come November. Incidentally,
the other star cast members (Ashlee Simpson, Stephen
Moyer, Drew Carey) all did a great job, and had their
own dedicated fans cheering them on from various
sections of the audience.
"Chicago" is an unsentimental American musical that
contains sharp observations about the extent and force
of women's ambitions and the various limitations women
have placed on them. It gives its smartest lines to a
trio of female characters: Velma Kelly, Roxie Hart and
Matron "Mama" Morton. As such, it's a great vehicle for
an outsized performer like Lucy Lawless, whichever role
she takes on.
HOSTED IMAGES & SCREENCAPTURES
Photos by Marilyn Edwards