For most people, including myself, the film version of Chicago, is the standard in the interpretation of the play, written by a Chicago Tribune reporter, who covered a string of murder trials with female defendants in the ’20s. Seeing the Manila staging made me appreciate the film even more: director Rob Marshall did a glorious interpretation, considering how the musical production is very minimalist—no costume and set changes, very few musical props, and lean choreography. The movie had set an extremely high bar.
Nevertheless, I fully understand the freedom and creative abandonment available in film versus the limitations of a play. It would be unfair to expect the same caliber of glitzy spectacle in a live staging; however, I did expect the same caliber of talent in its actors: after all, they still delivered (almost) the same lines and sang the same songs.
That is why I couldn’t help but be disappointed with the Manila production. Considering I watched on its first weekend evening run, I expected a rousing début; instead it was a dud. It took way too long for the energy to pick up, and even then, it never really hit its climax.
Which is puzzling. The musical begins with a sassy and huge number, All That Jazz, and it could have easily set the tone for an electric night, but under Terra MacLeod’s (Velma Kelly) lead, the number was cold and dull. The ensemble performed like they were all in rehearsal and that this was their fourth run—they’ve gotten their lyrics and dances down pat so now, they just need to do this last run perfectly so they can all pack up their bags and go home. I was hoping that someone—anyone—would rouse their fellow actors to strive better, and in Cell Block Tango, there were some glimmer of hope in the murderesses, but there’s not much the ensemble could do when the lead stars simply go through the motions and act like they can do better than being in a tour. In Manila. These are seasoned actors; what I saw (or didn’t see) couldn’t possibly be attributed to jitters.
Even Bianca Marroquin, who played Roxy Hart was too mechanical in her perfection. There were no visible strain of effort in her (actually, in most of the ensemble, and most definitely in Terra.) Even their high kicks are limp, as if straining a muscle at any point of the two-hour staging would be an exercise in pointlessness. Nevertheless, it was nice that they were magnanimous enough to do cartwheels.
I did enjoy the performances of Jacob Keith Watson (Amos Hart), Jeff MacCarthy (Billy Flynn), Christophe Caballero (Mary Sunshine), Aurore Joly (Hunyak), and the charming conductor with his orchestra, who I felt had more love for the Filipino audience. Overall, I liked that seeing this musical provided additional background information on the characters (through the songs that didn’t make the film’s cut), and that it gave me more appreciation for great Filipino actors and plays.
I sincerely hope Chicago the Musical was simply having a bad day that night.
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The Theater at Solaire: Good acoustics and pretty intimate environment; you’ll get a decent view from anywhere in the orchestra unless you’re seated behind a really tall person or Tessa Prieto-Valdez. Best seats in the house are those in rows G to U. (I didn’t get to go up the balcony section so I can’t comment.) Toilets are new, decent, and clean. No urinals for the men’s restroom in the orchestra section (all cubicles), so expect a long line during intermission.
Eat anywhere but here. Food is horrendous and expensive. Prices are levied with 10% service charge even if there’s not much service to speak of. Staff needs training.