"Nobody's got no class. There's no decency left." The sentiment comes courtesy of a 1920s murderer and her bribe-hungry warden -- and their sassy, brassy take on justice is just one of the delicious ironies in Chicago, the sixth-longest running production in Broadway history.
When this deliciously satiric Kander and Ebb musical opened in the '70s, it was deemed too dark and cynical for such feel-good times. An unrepentant murderer as star? A slick lawyer playing fast and loose with the truth? Audiences shuddered. By 1996, in a post-OJ world, it seemed prescient. Chicago, at the Ambassador Theater, hits a winning combination: marrying social commentary to slick showmanship.
It's 21st-century America now; family-values conservatives are embroiled in sex romps and corrupt CEOs reward themselves with bonuses from bailout money. Killing your two-timing boyfriend seems almost quaint, which the song "Cell Block Tango" sends up with cabaret-style delight. Chicago's sweetheart of crime is Roxy Hart (a sparkling Ruthie Henshall), who took her lover's rejection to heart. Some women would just write the bum off; Roxy prefers a good old-fashioned shootout.
Luckily, her hapless husband (Raymond Bokhour) can raise the money for a hotshot lawyer brilliant at spin. While attorney Billy Flynn (Coleman Domingo through July 20; Seinfeld's John Hurley till August 29) is busy concocting an outrageous scenario to free his client, the women who keeping Roxy company in Cook County prison, namely one Velma Kelly (cool, angular beauty Terra C. MacLeod) and matron (Terri White, fresh from Finian's Rainbow), shower us with a jazzy, razzle-dazzle of sight, sound and motion.
Staged in a Brechtian manner, coupled with hard-chiseled dancers whose bodies provide all the scenery we need, Chicago explores the unholy alliance between crime and celebrity with sinister glee. The story is hugely entertaining, the dancing is mesmerizing and the score is fantastic. Henshall, who earned an Olivier Award for originating the Roxie role in London, hides real cunning behind her 100-watt smile, while MacLeod, another accomplished production vet, mirrors the aggressive, in-your-face quality Ann Reinking originally brought to the role. She's an ideal Velma.
And the ensemble, one of the hardest working on Broadway, is riveting. Sure, criminals may be the flavor of the month, but who says we can't enjoy their antics? The musical Chicago reminds us that deception is as American as apple pie. If you want to be taken for a glorious ride, book it.
Alison Arngrim, better known as acid-tongued Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie, brings her own brand of irreverence to the Laurie Beechman Theater at the West Bank Cafe June 17-19 in Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Happy to dish on Little House, child stars and her own career as a toxic pubescent brat, Arngrim's comic performances are a tie-in to her new book (of the same title) from HarperCollins.
Prairie Bitch began eight years ago in a Greenwich Village club and has since been staged both here and abroad. Part of the appeal is her candor; a show-biz kid, her dad managed Nellie Oelson and Liberace, while Mom made a name for herself in voiceovers. She's open about the often hostile reception from Little House fans, but peppers her observations with wry humor and a genuinely funny delivery. The behind-the-scenes recalls are a scream. Arngrim, a seasoned stand-up, has performed at the Improv, Comedy Store and Laugh Factory. From New York, she's touring her take-no-prisoners act, cross-country.
Pre-Post Theater Restaurant: Monte's
Few can make Monte's claim: It opened in 1918 and remains one of the best, most charming Italian restaurants in Greenwich Village. This cozy Old World trattoria, with its four-seat bar, is a step back in time, a white-tablecloth oasis on lively MacDougal Street. The walls are lined with photos of sports stars and actors, including autographed shots of the Beatles and Pavarotti. But the real joy is the superb Northern Italian fare. Monte's prides itself on homemade pastas, including the tortelloni Monte's, stuffed with cheese and Swiss chard, and curing its own sopressata. The osso buco alla Milanese is a house specialty, as is the swordfish Livornese. The veal paillarde, like the chicken parmigiana, is simply and deliciously prepared. The seafood entrees are equally impressive, coupled with a solid wine list. There are 22 appetizers alone, many the size of an entrée. Plus, Chef Pietro Mosconi will design a menu for your table on request. End your evening with one of seven homemade desserts: the raspberries with zabaglione are a sinfully rich concoction, while the cannoli is a creamy masterpiece.
97 MacDougal St., New York, NY