Arts & Entertainment

It's Broadway, not Hollywood, but 'Chicago' will entertain all the same

When the curtain rises for Chicago, the razzle dazzle may not be quite what the audience expects from a Broadway musical.

Melanie Waldron, who plays accused murderess/jazz singer Velma Kelley, said the show is done without a set and with a minimum of costume changes. That allows the story, music and performances to take center stage.

"It is very simple in style and focused on the story," Waldron said. "It paints a picture for the audience without all the added sets and costumes."

Audiences won't be disappointed, she said.

The Toyota Center show kicks off the 2008-2009 Broadway and More! season, which also will feature the pounding rhythms of Irish clog dancing in Lord of the Dance in December and popular Broadway musical Annie in January.

Chicago was created by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team who wrote the musicals Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman. The show debuted on Broadway in 1975 and ran for nearly 900 performances before closing. A 1996 revival is still running.

The local audience might be more familiar with the Oscar-winning 2002 film version starring Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart, the aspiring performer who uses the murder of her lover to launch her into stardom; Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, the shrewd, fast-talking lawyer who defends Roxie in her murder trial; and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying Velma Kelley.

Waldron isn't trying to follow in Zeta-Jones' footsteps with her performance, but instead looks to bring a new life to Velma Kelley.

"You go back to the words on the page as opposed to copying," she said. "You make it your own Velma. ... I'm going to bring something different to the table because it's Velma told through me. I think I bring a wit and a humor. Velma is so bold and brassy. She's a diva character. She can be seen as forceful, strong and obnoxious. But she's also very funny. I like to bring out the humor in her too."

Waldron trained as an actress in New York, Washington, D.C., and London. She has starred in national tours of Man of La Mancha and In the Mood, and regional performances of Cats, A Chorus Line and Oliver!

She said she enjoys being able to tell a story through song and dance. Her favorite numbers are the two that bookend the show -- All That Jazz and Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag.

Fans of the movie will see a lot that's familiar -- the same storyline and many of the same songs -- but the experience will be different, she said.

"It's an electric piece of theater," Waldron said. "There are scantily-clad, beautiful-bodied dancers on stage telling a story. It takes place in the era of jazz and Prohibition, but it's relatable to today's audiences. It's about people doing terrible things for fame ... told through song and dance."

*Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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