I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad I missed Christie Brinkley last night.
A buzz of disappointment ran through the opening-night crowd for the brash and bawdy musical Chicago at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Supermodel Brinkley, due to play murderous ingénue Roxie Hart, would not appear due to illness.
She may return later this week. (DPAC announced this morning that Brinkley will not perform in Durham.)
But Bianca Marroquin, who's playing the lead in the current Broadway incarnation, hopped a plane from New York to stand in for the cover girl, and knocked her performance onto Waveland Avenue.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Brinkley bringing but a fraction of the pizzazz to Roxie that Marroquin does. Combining a muscular sexiness with the jerky slapstick sensibility of Cheri Oteri, Marroquin gave Roxie rich layers of innocence and libido. The Mexican actress knows this role, for she's been playing it on and off since she made her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in 2002.
Marroquin wasn’t the only stand-in for a principal. Kecia Lewis-Evans stepped into the role of Matron “Mama” Morton, garnering some of the loudest cheers of the evening for belting out her character’s signature tune “When You’re Good to Mama” and providing the only voice in the cast to fill the cavernous DPAC.
Amra-Faye Wright is brassy and hilarious in the other lead role of Velma Kelly and Tony Yazbeck’s slick-and-sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn glues the evening together with a solid, steady performance amid the burlesque hysteria of almost incessant musical numbers.
The one thing lacking from the performance was the title character itself. The city of Jazz-Age Chicago, land of speakeasys and feverish promiscuity, fails to make a real appearance in the production. The staging couldn’t be more spare, as the orchestra occupies the majority of the performance floor in a three-level riser that images a nightclub. This leaves a surprisingly narrow area between the riser and the lip of the stage for the cast to perform in, which presented occasional challenges Tuesday night. Marroquin’s nose was nearly taken off by a chorus dancer skidding in for the final ta-da to “We Both Reached for the Gun.” If anything, it gives the numbers a dangerous edge.
But the absenteeism of the City of the Broad Shoulders is hardly the fault of the cast, who top to bikini-briefs-clad bottom blasts the audience with enthusiasm. Chicago stays fun and fast throughout, with or without a supermodel in the mix.