Particularly since things have become less COVID-y, I’ve continuously aware that I live in NYC for a reason, and my office building is a block from Times Square, and there is nothing stopping me from leaving my office, going to the TKTS booth or a specific box office, and going to see something on a Tuesday or Wednesday night or whatever. I’m only in the office once a week normally, and that day of the week is flexible, but yeah, I should really take advantage of what I’ve got before me.
Since ‘the thing’, I’ve had simultaneously more freedom and more anxiety about just going out and doing stuff. Week after week, I’d find myself vaguely planning to go see something after work, then getting to the end of the day and going, ‘ya know, I’m tired and peopled out and home has TV and knitting and a couch and…’ and just going home.
So I promised myself, at the turn of the year, ‘you, Missy, are going to go see a show once a month, no matter how tired or socially anxious you are’. ‘Oh, all right’, I grumped at myself.
Aaaannnddd… Jinkx Monsoon was going into Chicago, and would only be there for a couple of months. Everyone knows “Chicago”, right? It was a successful Kander and Ebb show from 1975, that probably would have won a lot more Tonys than it did, but it was overshadowed by the Chorus Line juggernaut that year. In the mid-90’s, Encores did a production with Ann Reinking (starring as Roxie and also recreating/revisiting Fosse’s original choreography), Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton and Joel Grey that was such a smash that they moved it to Broadway. Charles and I saw it with the original cast early on, then took my parents to it over Christmas that year (Marilu Henner now in as Roxie, and she was just fine, and an understudy on for Velma). And I hadn’t seen it since, although of course the movie then came out and won the Oscar.
The revival’s been chugging along ever since, with an amazing amount of stunt casting in the roles of Roxie, Matron “Mama” Morton, and Billy, and a line of real singer/dancers for Velma, as you can’t fake that part. Bebe Neuwirth, who won the Tony as Velma, came back into the show eventually as Roxie, and then as Mama. It became a standard tourist staple, and (I guess) the production was so simple (having started as a staged concert, basically, and not having much in the way of sets or costumes) that it was financially reasonable to just keep it going.
And Jinkx Monsoon is a name for all of us who follow RuPaul’s Drag Race. She’s won it more than once, she’s tremendously talented and very funny. We haven’t seen a lot of RPDR alums on local stages, so this was a big deal – certainly ‘the gays’ sat up and took notice when they announced it. I instantly assumed she’d play Mary Sunshine, a female role that’s written to be played by a man, but no, she was going in as Mama. Smart choice, it’s a short star turn, and not hard to be a success in if you have any chops at all.
So I eyeballed to see if Chicago hit the cheap tickets board (it’s usually on there) but of course the gays started buying tickets, which was probably the whole point of casting her. So I just went, ‘Whee, let’s spend money!” and got a full-priced ticket last Thursday.
Curtain was at 7:00 and I wasn’t hungry enough for dinner yet, so I went to the 9th Avenue Saloon. (I am becoming more social in that way, too.) Had a lovely cocktail, was amused that my alcoholic buzz led me not to inappropriately hit on the bartender or such, but sit there in a revery remembering how lovely and hilarious my late husband was and how many great times we’d had seeing Broadway shows together.
Off to the theater. I’d gotten a very nice aisle seat. Took a chance to use the bathroom first – hoo boy. This particular theater seemed only have one set up bathrooms up on the mezzanine, and there was a line for the guy’s room before the show, wow. But got through it. (at intermission, both bathroom lines went practically out to Jersey. What a mess.)
Anyway, to my surprise for a production that’s been running over two decades, the show was really great. It’s a delightful show, of course, and while the production itself is sparse (I had the same problem with the Encores-spawned Into the Woods revival – at those prices, I’d like to see some sets), the staging and choreography is excellent. Fosse (or Fosse-inspired) choreography is so effing slinky and sexy, who wouldn’t want to watch an evening of that? (Dancin’ is coming to Broadway this season, can’t wait.)
Jinkx was wonderful as Mama, very funny and brassy, and sang it perfectly. She only really has two numbers, “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Class”, but they were both totally in her wheelhouse and her voice was great for it. And the dialogue scenes were really fun. There was a large percentage of the audience who, like me, were here to see her, and yes, of course we went bananas on her entrance and for the applause, but I was very grateful that we were also polite enough not to ever disrupt or stop the show in our fanboying.
Amra-Faye Wright was Velma, and she was technically correct, but I didn’t love her. Same with James T. Lane, as Billy Flynn. Loved the guy playing Amos – the sad schlub, a role that any older Broadway character actor could knock out of the park. And all the merry murderesses were great. “Cell Block Tango” is one of the most insanely fun Broadway numbers ever. C and I, when we were (mildly) annoyed with each other, would pull out lines from it… “He ran into my knife! Ten times!”
But the delightful surprise of the evening was Charlotte D’Amboise as Roxie. She’s a Broadway stalwart who’s been around forever… in fact, one of the first shows I cheap-ticketed when I moved to town in 1994 was Damn Yankees and she was Lola. Have seen her in many things since (we did not like her Cassie in Chorus Line, but she made Fastrada in Pippin work, a role that can fall flat). But she was a revelation as Roxie. She’s my age, but looked fantastic. She’s a real dancer, so really did the moves that I’m sure Pamela Anderson just fudged. But she was totally committed to the character, very funny, very true and acted the damn thing out of the park as well as sang and danced it. Total respect.
So anyway, Chicago on Broadway is still very much worth your time, you should try to see Jinkx before she leaves and Eric the audience member is back, baby!