I spent a good chunk of my weekend getting into the new Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, which follows the story of a woman from a privileged background who ends up in a federal women’s prison for trafficking drug money. It paints a pretty stark picture of the corrections system and looks about as far from a good time as I can imagine. On the extreme other hand, Saturday night I went to see Chicago, the 1975 Kander and Ebb musical, which plays for a handful of performances this weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. The show follows two 1920s vaudeville showgirls who team up after meeting in prison for murder. But there are no orange jumpsuits here. This prison is punctuated by shimmering dresses, punchy songs, an empathetic and bribable warden, and one sexy, slimy lawyer. If I had to choose, I’d take the Chicago version of jail.
Chicago, directed by actress Brooke Shields, closely follows the Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and staging of the 1996 Broadway revival (and strongly echoes the Oscar-winning 2002 film directed by Rob Marshall) — and with good reason. Shields recruited original Chicago national tour dance captain Gregory Butler to choreograph, and she cast recognizable faces in the leading roles — including Ashlee Simpson, who reprises her turn as Roxie Hart from the 2006 West End production. In addition, much of the very strong supporting cast performed in the Broadway and national tour productions of Chicago. The stark black-and-white staging and black-clad, fedora-topped ensemble suit the outdoor setting of the Bowl and work well on the much-needed jumbo-trons, but lack the shimmery punch of red that Marshall’s film version ingrained in me. So there’s not much new here, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
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