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I've seen many versions of this 1975 Bob Fosse-John Kander-Fred Ebb musical, and this one is the most effective. It's less slick and more lively than previous touring productions of director Walter Bobbie's still-running 1996 Broadway revival. The cynicism of Fosse and Ebb's script (based on Jazz Age journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins's play) seems less facile and more credible; a rat-a-tat pace and some strong lead performances make the story compelling and even moving as well as darkly satiric. Bianca Marroquin plays Roxie Hart, the chorine-turned-killer who hopes to parlay notoriety into showbiz stardom; with her short red hair and waifish mix of pluck and pathos, Marroquin recalls the young Shirley MacLaine. Roxie's realization that "I'm older than I ever intended to be" has a poignancy here I've never seen before. Brenda Braxton is dynamic as Roxie's rival, Velma Kelly; Gregory Harrison is charming and smarmy as crooning legal shyster Billy Flynn; and operatic soprano R. Bean is wonderfully over-the-top as reporter Mary Sunshine, the "sob sister" with a secret. Best of all is the brilliant Broadway and cabaret veteran Marcia Lewis Bryan as corrupt prison matron "Mama" Morton. Her crisply economical yet emotionally textured performance evokes the raunchy comedy of vaudeville singer Sophie Tucker while bringing a fierce moral edge to the show's critique of capital punishment and of a dysfunctional legal system. A crack jazz orchestra echoes the biting rhythms, laughing riffs, and insinuating harmonies of Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven and Duke Ellington's "jungle music"; the singers' slurred, sultry back-phrasing of Kander's melodies is at once erotic and melancholy. And Ann Reinking's sexy, Fosse-style choreography (re-created for this tour by former Joffrey star Gary Chryst) is masterful. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400. Through September 21: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $38-$77.50.


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