Entertainment Theater

Assessment: ‘Chicago,’ With Nary a Finger Snap

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The seedy, culturally vibrant and quickly modernizing Berlin of the Twenties was nicknamed “Chicago on the Spree.” That moniker sprang to thoughts lately through the premiere of a masterful and muscular new manufacturing of “Chicago,” directed by Barrie Kosky on the Komische Oper Berlin.

“Chicago,” a “story of greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery,” to cite the prologue, is the longest-running present at the moment on Broadway, nevertheless it bought a really combined reception when it opened there in 1975. A lot of these early viewers members had been uncomfortable with Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and John Kander’s use of musical showstoppers within the service of an amoral satire, and the present’s jerky and pastiche-like narrative approach.

For his manufacturing, Kosky has gone again to the unique idea of the present as a musical vaudeville with a heavy dose of bile and a touch of Brechtian alienation, whereas additionally embracing burlesque components. Michael Levine’s dazzling set is outfitted with almost 7000 gentle bulbs, which intelligently body the actors, and the motion, in regularly altering configurations that recommend a nightclub, a jail cell and a circus ring.

There are particular echoes of Kosky’s darkly glittering tackle “The Threepenny Opera” from 2021. However this “Chicago” isn’t one other radical rethinking of a canonical work, neither is Kosky clearing the cobwebs from an aged basic, as he did beforehand with “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Candide.” This “Chicago” is solely a rattling good present, with an consideration to choreography and musical verve not often discovered outdoors Broadway or the West Finish. The manufacturing supplied additional proof, if any was wanted, that Kosky has made the Komische Oper — which has all the time embraced numerous types of music theater — the very best place for traditional American musicals on the continent.

The present, carried out in a limber German translation by Helmut Baumann and Erika Gesell, is impeccably solid. Katharine Mehrling, an acclaimed chanteuse and common Kosky collaborator, brings the correct mix of naïveté and tenacity to the function of Roxie Hart, the washed-up refrain lady whose trial for murdering her lover catapults her to stardom. As her jail mate and rival vaudevillian Velma Kelly, Ruth Brauer-Kvam provides an attractive, assured efficiency. She’s additionally the solid’s truest triple menace, singing, twirling and appearing her approach by way of the night with out breaking a sweat.

Jörn-Felix Alt brings a rakish, matinee-idol allure to his efficiency as Billy Flynn, the shyster lawyer who orchestrates media circuses for his feminine purchasers. Andreja Schneider makes a sassy, straight-shooting Mama Morton, the crooked warden of Prepare dinner’s County Jail, whereas Ivan Tursic doesn’t overdo the pathos as Roxy’s chump of a husband, Amos.

The music, carried out in its authentic 1975 orchestration, sounds incredible performed by a full orchestra — a luxurious you not often get on Broadway. The conductor Adam Benzwi shapes the music with precision and vitality, and his band provides the altering temperatures and moods the rating requires.

Good-looking and modern, the staging is as stripped-down as a few of Kosky’s different current productions, however he additionally is aware of when to drag out the stops. Mehrling makes her daring entrance in “All That Jazz,” trailed by a dozen dancers hiding behind purple ostrich feather followers. Kosky brings again the razzle-dazzle within the closing quantity, “These days,” when Roxy and Velma are outfitted within the sparkliest fits legally permitted onstage. In between, Victoria Behr’s costumes present loads of different contemporary and easily executed concepts, together with orange silk robes for the prisoners and surreal touches like masks of outsized heads and cartoon lips.

The choreographer Otto Pichler, credited as a co-director, crafts glowing dance numbers for the soloists and his 12-person troupe with nary a finger snap, twist or slow-motion hip roll in sight. This can be a welcome selection, since something that’s overdone — even a method as vivid as Fosse’s — can turn out to be fossilized.

After the Komische Oper opened its season with a monumental manufacturing staged in an airport hangar, “Chicago” is the corporate’s first present on the Schiller Theater, its short-term residence, within the west of Berlin, whereas prolonged renovations to its historic home proceed.

Luring audiences to the opposite aspect of city this season doesn’t look like a problem: Even earlier than opening evening, nearly the whole run of “Chicago” had offered out.

Chicago

Via Jan. 27, 2024, at Komische Oper Berlin; komische-oper-berlin.de.