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, 1999 -- will play murderess Roxie Hart for four weeks at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre prior to the musical's first preview March 3 in the Nevada resort town.
On Jan. 20, the Princess of Wales announced a two-week extension of Chicago, which will now run Feb. 2-26, co-starring Stephanie Pope as Velma, Ernie Sabella as Amos and Marcia Lewis as Matron Mama Morton.
The company will then travel to Vegas, perhaps with Ben Vereen as Billy Flynn. The Princess of Wales has not yet announced a Billy for Toronto.
The Las Vegas Sun reported Ben Vereen is to play the smooth shyster in the Vegas run of John Kander and Fred Ebb's dark musical comedy, but as of Jan. 21 the actor hadn't signed with producers Barry and Fran Weissler, according to a spokesperson for the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. Dave Kirvin, publicist for Mandalay Bay, told Playbill On-Line Vereen, star of Bob Fosse's Pippin and "All That Jazz," had "been mentioned," but nothing had been sealed.
The under-construction Mandalay Bay is expected to open March 2, a day before Chicago bows at the 1,750-seat theatre there. Rivera, who originated the role of Velma Kelly in the 1975 musical, will play the show's other star part, Roxie, in the hit musical revival. Gwen Verdon originated Roxie in 1975.
Lewis, the revival's Tony-nominated Mama Morton, left the Broadway production Jan. 24 to join the Toronto "Velma" company. Roz Ryan (MSG's A Christmas Carol, TV's "Amen" and "Good News") took over as the Broadway Mama Jan. 26, 1999.
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) 90 minute 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 Mandalay venue offers table seating and traditional theatre seating and is built, for future productions, for "major" shows, Kirvin said.
The Weisslers, 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 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. But those close to the Broadway production say Lemper returns -- and stays - in the Broadway Chicago beginning Jan. 26 (following a rest of two weeks after an illness).
But for how long will Ute stay put in NYC? A Broadway company member says Lemper may indeed take over the last week of the Toronto run prior to Vegas.
It was also not immediately clear if Roxie might now be handed the show's opening number, "All That Jazz," which Velma has traditionally sung, and which is something of a signature for steely, sleek Rivera.
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. 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 the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical 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 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.