At the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Chicago: The Musical is currently on, one of the many Broadway shows that the Kravis has slated for its 2023-2024 season. As iconic as this show seems to be, this production did not leave me with any indication that it should be considered as such.
The Kravis Center is an incredible venue. It was my first time there on opening night. The interior of the lobby, with stairs rising to their upper floors designed to appear floating, and the interior of Dreyfoos Hall recreate an art deco adjacent style, and it feels like one of those one-of-a-kind venues you’ll never find anywhere else, except in West Palm Beach. I’m excited to return, when I can.
Chicago: The Musical was a musical I had never seen before opening night, it seemed to skirt around the peripherals of what I know. But, I was excited nonetheless to see the performance because of its critical acclaim. However, it did not live up to that reputation for me. There were some artistic decisions with this show that I did not like, making it quite difficult to see.
This musical was based on a play in the early 20th century about a real string of murders happening in a fraught Chicago; gangsters and Prohibition lead somewhere after all. The journalist covering the murders ended up writing the play based on his coverage. But, in case you haven’t seen it, like me before Tuesday November 7, it is a musical about multiple women getting away with blatant murder.
First, I want to commend the cast because they have a difficult job trying to translate this dated piece for modern audience-goers. There was: Roxie Hart (Katie Frieden); Velma Kelly (Kailin Brown); Billy Flynn (Connor Sullivan); Amos Hart (Robert Quiles); Matron “Mama” Morton (Illeana “Illy” Kirven); and Mary Sunshine (J. Terrell). The entire supporting ensemble was equally as good. The ability to sing in the jazz style, while conducting choreography in such limited space is really a feat of strength in the entertainment business. Kudos to them.
My particular favorite performance was done by Brown’s Velma Kelly. When she appeared on the stage to preface the musical, I admit, I was nervous as to what I had gotten myself into by requesting to see this show. But, as the show progresses, her character is the character the audience forms the connection with. She shows a wide range of emotions, being a foil to the sociopathic Roxie. That being said, Frieden’s performance of the song “Roxie” was the best moment of the entire night.
Two of the main things that I did not like about this production were the content of the musical itself and the staging of a big band as the only setting and scene. In 2023, a musical about murder and publicity for the sake of it mirrors life outside the stage, still. The world is rife with murder, and I didn’t appreciate seeing a show about multiple people getting away with their acts. This is no one’s fault, but my own.
What could be changed, though, was the complete lack of setting or scene in this production. Each song and dance, mimicking being on a faux stage, had the same exact image of them singing in front of the live band playing the score of the show. There was no indication that there were major events happening, except from the delivery of the character’s body and words. I was almost immediately bored by the immovable stage, knowing I wouldn’t be looking at anything for two hours, save an intermission.
For more information visit https://www.kravis.org/events/chicago/.
Christopher McDaniel is a MFA candidate in Creative Writing, Nonfiction, at Florida Atlantic University. He also works as a grant writer for the Norton Museum of Art. When Chris is not writing, he's either reading, walking around a museum, or thinking about a new piece to write later. He's from Virginia.