In a kind of tryout for the six-month Las Vegas stand of Chicago starring Chita Rivera, the ageless dancer -- who turned 66 on Jan. 23 -- begins four weeks of performances as Roxie Hart Feb. 2 at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre.
Ben Vereen, a veteran of the Bob Fosse projects “All That Jazz” and Pippin, steps into the role of Billy Flynn in Toronto Feb. 18, according to a Toronto spokesperson. Tickets sales for the Feb. 2-26 run are exceeding sales of the previous 10-week run at the Princess of Wales.
Rivera, Vereen and Marcia Lewis (as Matron Mama Morton) will continue onto the Mandalay Bay Resort & Hotel in Vegas, where previews for a six month run begin Mar. 3. The hotel complex opens to the public March 2.
The Toronto spokesman said the Toronto run is note-for-note the same script seen on Broadway, quashing speculation that Rivera might sing “All That Jazz,” the song she originated when she created the role of Velma in the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical in 1975. This time out, she plays the Gwen Verdon role of Roxie.
Stephanie Pope will open the show with “All That Jazz.” Michael Berresse will play Billy in the first two weeks in Ontario, M.E. Spencer is Mary Sunshine and Ernie Sabella is Amos. The Toronto spokesperson said there has been no official word that (as speculated) Ute Lemper (Velma on Broadway) may take over the role of Velma late in the Toronto run. Official opening in Toronto is Feb. 5 following Feb. 2-4 previews.
Rivera, Lewis and others rehearsed the show during the last week of the Chicago, IL, stand of the show Jan. 26-31. Lewis, the revival's Tony nominated Mama Morton, left the Broadway production Jan. 24 to join the Toronto "Velma" company, rehearsing with Rivera and the troupe at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre.
For information about Chicago tickets in Toronto, call (416) 872 1212.
Vegas publicist Dave Kirvin said Mandalay's Chicago is a rare occasion for Vegas: Although uncut national tours such as Stomp have played the desert resort town, sit-down stagings of musicals are usually trimmed-down, tourist-and-gambler-friendly productions, like the (now-closed) Starlight Express at the Hilton, or in-house casino versions of classic musical comedies.
He promised Chicago would be the full Broadway revival production. The 1,700-seat Mandalay venue offers table seating and traditional theatre seating and is built, for future productions, for "major" shows, Kirvin said.
Barry and Fran Weissler, producers of the Broadway Chicago and its spinoff tours, will produce the Vegas stand in association with Warren Trepp and Mandalay Bay.
Rivera is expected to continue with Chicago in Vegas to Aug. 28. The top ticket price at Mandalay Bay is $82.50. For ticket information, call (702) 474-4000 or (877) 632-7400.
In the meantime, the "Roxie" national tour -- the other North American road company -- is scheduled to play Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 22-March 14.
Director Walter Bobbie's minimalist Chicago staging (in black cocktail dresses and slinky slacks, shirts and tuxes) is choreographed by Ann Reinking "in the style of" original director-choreographer Bob Fosse.
In recent weeks, names as big as Jerry Lewis (for the role of Billy Flynn) had been rumored, and there was chatter in the wings that Ute Lemper may take her London and current Broadway Velma west to Glitter Gulch.
Rivera's in-process one-woman show, backed up by "boy" dancers, is called Chita and All That Jazz. It had a summer 1998 tryout in Atlantic City and is expected to resurface in fall 1999, according to Rivera’s brother-manager. Fred Ebb is a consultant.
The now-legendary Rivera made her splash as the original Anita in West Side Story in 1957-58 and over the next four decades appeared in Broadway musical hits and beloved flops, including Bye Bye Birdie, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bajour, Merlin, Bring Back Birdie, The Rink, as well as in numerous club acts and tours (Can-Can, for example).
Not even a taxicab accident, which required having pins put in her famous legs, could stop Rivera from dancing across a Broadway stage.
The smash $3 million Broadway revival of Chicago has been a hot ticket since its opening Nov. 14, 1996. The production began as a four performance concert staging in May 1996 in City Center's "Encores!" series devoted to rarely-heard or underappreciated musical scores. A London company opened Nov. 18, 1997 at the Adelphi Theatre. Joel Grey, the Broadway revival Amos, recreated the role in London Aug. 17-Nov. 7, 1998.
-- By Kenneth Jones