Kara DioGuardi gives an impressive performance as Roxie Hart in the long-running production of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s murderous musical.

Kara DioGuardi
Kara DioGuardi

The Broadway revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Chicago, now at the Ambassador Theatre, may be on the verge of celebrating its 15th anniversary, but one could hardly tell the production has recently entered the upper echelon of long-running shows on Broadway. There's a crispness to the entire piece, which has direction by Walter Bobbie and choreography by Ann Reinking, that belies its age.
There also happens to be — if only for a few more shows — two standout performers at the center of the production: Kara DioGuardi as Roxie Hart, the woman on trial for murdering her lover, and Tony Yazbeck as Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer who takes her case.

Best known for her time as a judge on American Idol, DioGuardi delivers an impressively crafted performance, which is grounded by her terrific vocals that combine a period torch singer's sultriness with a certain contemporary flair. In addition, she can use her beaming smile to both melt and chill hearts as Roxie manipulates those around her, particularly her long-suffering husband Amos (the gravelly voiced and teddy bear-like Chris Sullivan), and she has the ability to transform from a breathy naïf into a tough-talking broad in the blink of an eye.

And it's DioGuardi's ability to let audiences in on Roxie's conniving ways as she maneuvers from incarceration to trial (all the while seeing her infamy as a way of achieving celebrity) that makes the performance so entirely delectable. In her hands, the character is someone audiences find themselves cheering for in spite of themselves.

Perhaps more suprising, DioGuardi has the ability to put over Reinking's dances with ease, holding her own alongside her co-star Amra-Faye Wright — who delights with her precise, sexy moves and with her überly-dry interpretation of murderess Velma Kelly — along with the highly polished ensemble of singer-dancers, many of whom have lived with the show and its choreography for years.

Equally impressive is Yazbeck's turn as the "greasy" (Roxie's word) attorney, who's chasing fees and headlines. Not only does he use his rich baritone to deliver Kander and Ebb's songs with the sort of power and panache that one might associate with a big band singer of days gone by, but he also brings a decided grace to his dances.

Perhaps what's most enjoyable about Yazbeck's turn, is that it, like DioGuardi's, trades in a certain duality: there's an assuring ease about this somewhat baby-faced Billy that makes his more cut-throat machinations all the more surprising.

Alongside these performers are Carol Woods, who makes for a surprisingly chipper Matron "Mama" Morton , and R. Lowe, who brings a gorgeous songbird's trill to the role of Mary Sunshine, the "sob sister" reporter who, at the center of the unsettlingly topical media circus surrounding Roxie's case, champions her bid for freedom.

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