“Chicago” at CIBC Theatre works even with a young cast

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Billing a show as “the 25th anniversary tour” implies something special: a salute to the tradition, an homage to the stars of the past, some extra razzle-dazzle.

In reality, though, the tour of the musical “Chicago” current found at the CIBC Theatre is a nonunion show, a distinction that doesn’t just imply less compensation for the artist (though it almost always does), but means that no one in the cast has meaningful Broadway credits or, indeed, any kind of history with one of the most successful musicals of all time.

You’re mostly buying early-career performers, and without any clear disclosure from the seller. There’s an argument to be made that such arrangements mean musicals can visit smaller cities for one or two nights. Fine. But union rules mean these shows aren’t allowed on Broadway and it long has been my position that the theaters of downtown Chicago, which share ownership with New York, should be no different. Especially with this particular title. A local signature, you might say, born of a pen of a crime reporter from this very newspaper. A place where the line “God help Illinois” has a certain resonance.

I feel this so strongly, I almost didn’t go. I’ve seen the tour more than a dozen times and watched Chita Rivera, Charlotte D’Amboise, Ute Lemper, Ben Vereen, the lesser known but fantastic Bianca Marroquin and, peppering the ragout of Mama Morton like no one else ever could, Marcia Lewis, may she rest in peace.

But duty called and I heard the siren of that Kander and Ebb score. On a gray January night in Chicago, is there actually any harm in rolling the dice on hearing such songs as “Nowadays” and “I Am My Own Best Friend?” What were you doing, sucker? Streaming something?

And, you know … I can recommend what goes on at the CIBC Theater.

If you understand going in that there is no celebrity Billy Flynn to pump up the irony, and no sad-eyed veteran hoofers to add to that show’s signature Bob Fosse-esque blend of craft and cynicism, you will be just fine. Fosse-style choreography, as manifest through Ann Reinking, is a young person’s game and this particular ensemble of dancers is superb.

Katie Frieden as Roxie Hart, and company of the musical "Chicago," in the Loop at CIBC Theatre.

Katie Frieden, who plays Roxie, takes a few numbers to find her way but it’s authentic, honest work that moved me greatly by the time we ended up with the final number at the McVicar’s Theater, showbiz having trumped justice once again. I wondered if Frieden and Logan Floyd, who makes for a very solid and determined Velma Kelly, knew that their final scene actually was taking place just a block away from where they were singing “You can like the life you’re living, you can live the life you like,” and that not that much about Chicago really has changed all that much since Maurine Dallas Watkins walked out of the new Tribune Tower and found that her fortune did not lie in journalism. Not that she ever was so deluded.

Funnily, I just reviewed an all-new production of “Chicago” at the Stratford Festival this past summer and greatly enjoyed its refreshing expansiveness after seeing the same production for so long.

But this outing was a reminder of the minimalist excellence of that Walter Bobbie revival, a stunning feat of the kind that Broadway delivers, well, about once every quarter of a century.

If you’re a fan of the show (the set is the same and all the musicians are union; they don’t dare mess with that), you’ll be just fine with these most worthy and talented young dancers and singers. Good for them. Good for Tania Nardini and Gary Chryst, who have “re-created” this staging and choreography.

Good for “Chicago,” and, aptly enough, all who serve to profit.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

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Review: “Chicago” (3 stars)

When: Through Jan. 29

Where: CIBC Theater, 18 W. Monroe St.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tickets: $30-$105 at 800-775-2000 and www.broadwayinchicago.com

Jeff Brooks as Billy Flynn, and company of the musical "Chicago," in the Loop at CIBC Theatre.



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