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Ever-Youthful Chicago Still a Hit

November 18, 2002 GMT

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NEW YORK (AP) _ A lot of Broadway musicals don’t age very well, but the long-running revival of ``Chicago″ seems to have discovered the fountain of youth.

Judging from Sunday evening’s sharp, sassy performance at the Shubert Theatre, the show is as entertaining as ever, thanks to a trio of energetic stars, Charlotte d’Amboise, Billy Zane and Caroline O’Connor and a mostly on-target supporting cast.

Both d’Amboise and O’Connor are ``Chicago″ veterans. D’Amboise has played Roxie Hart on tour and in New York, while O’Connor headlined as Velma Kelly in the Australian production. Zane, however, is making his Broadway debut in the role of opportunistic lawyer Billy Flynn.

D’Amboise dances better than any of her predecessors, particularly in the ``Roxie″ number, which looks as if it has been expanded to take advantage of her considerable talents. She slithers and slides with impeccable grace _ elegant and sexy at the same time.

O’Connor is a major discovery for New York theatergoers. She has an aggressive, almost hammy sense of the comic which works well for the role of Velma. And she’s got quite a voice, big and booming, that matches Roz Ryan, a robust, raunchy Matron Mama Morton, note for note in their second-act duet, ``Class.″

Zane looks a bit like the Arrow collar man in those 1920s dress-shirt advertisements, and, if not a natural song-and-dance man, he seems to be having a good time up there crooning and hoofing.

Rob Bartlett knows how to milk sympathy and laughs as Amos, Roxie’s hapless husband, and he justly earns applause with his big song, ``Mister Cellophane.″ Only R. Bean, as newspaper sob sister Mary Sunshine, spins out of control in a role where excess should not be synonymous with unintelligibility.

Based on the play, ``Roxie Hart″ by Maurine Dallas Watkins, ``Chicago″ delivers a slim, cynical story of sex, murder and the price of publicity, three topics which never go out of style.

The score by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) remains one of their best. Kander’s catchy melodies are potent, toe-tapping reminders of music from the late 1920s, while Ebb’s words are snappy, pointed and often very funny.

A special mention should be made of the marvelous onstage orchestra, now under the direction of Gregory J. Dlugos. Its sound sets the tone for the entire evening: brash, buoyant and utterly irresistible.