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Razzle-Dazzle 'Em

Gonzo does Gere in Playhouse Square's Chicago.

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Chicago  dames show off their getaway sticks - at the State Theatre.
  • Chicago dames show off their getaway sticks at the State Theatre.
Richard Gere's stellar performance as fast-talking lawyer Billy Flynn in last year's Chicago kinda ruined it for succeeding actors playing the role onstage. But Gregory Harrison, who plays Flynn in the touring production of Chicago that comes to the State Theatre Tuesday, claims he feels no pressure. "I don't really care whether I'm close to what Richard did," he says. "I care that the audience buys the story and that we're serving the project properly.

"I don't worry about Richard. He's about No. 48 on a list of Billy Flynns. And I'm No. 50."

Chicago's history is luminous: It's won numerous Tony, Grammy, and Academy Awards over the past seven years and is Broadway's longest-running revival. Songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb's original 1975 production -- which was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, who wrote the book -- is based on a true story that took place in 1924. It has to do with showgirl Roxie Hart, who killed her boyfriend; Velma Kelly, who killed her cheating husband; and the media circus that erupts around Roxie's trial (which is spearheaded by attorney Flynn).

"Everybody's willing to do anything to get their 15 minutes of fame," Harrison says. "We now see that every night on television, with people eating bugs, jumping off buildings, and living on islands."

The tale's appeal, he says, lies in its timelessness: It filled tabloids in the '20s and was made into a stage comedy and movie by the end of the decade; Ginger Rogers starred in another movie version, Roxie Hart, in 1942. "If people were getting tired of Chicago, it got rekindled by the movie. The success of the movie brought in a whole new audience that wasn't familiar with the show, had seen the film, liked the story and the music, and is willing to take the musical ride now."

And last year's big-screen version, the first singin'-and-dancin' film to snag a Best Picture Oscar in 34 years, not only did right by the source material; it also helped generate interest in the long-dormant movie-musical genre. And that's good news for Harrison, the former Dr. "Gonzo" Gates on Trapper John, M.D. , who has also starred on Broadway in Follies and Steel Pier (another Kander and Ebb play). "I kept hoping somebody would do a good cinematic musical to get this whole generation we missed back in the game," he says. "Between Moulin Rouge and Chicago, I think we finally did it.

"So, we now have people willing to believe in the convention of people breaking into song in the middle of all of the action. They're showing up at the theater now, and I'm happy."

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