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Photo: Barbara Braun


It’s no surprise that master director Barrie Kosky goes full speed ahead with burlesque bling-bling and queer glitter in his powerful Berlin production of the musical classic Chicago at the Komische Oper.

What’s surprising is how well Chicago works (in German) in a Berlin context, affirming the quality of Bob Fosse’s glorious crime musical – and revealing an unmistakable kinship with the Weimar-era cabaret tradition.

Kosky unleashes Chicago with generous use of his usual signature tricks of unabashed homoerotic/humorous whimsy, letting this musical vaudeville unfold in a fast-paced, musical atmosphere of trashy New Orleans jazz, with a touch of Kurt Weil’s jangly sound.

The story, as you probably already know, is a tabloid satire that exposes greed, corruption, celeb-power, cynical exploitation for personal gain and the media’s ability to spin the public mood and pull public opinion around by the nose.

A dazzling Ruth Bauer Kvam brings the house down as the central character Velma Kelly, with a charisma that mixes Liza Minelli, Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker, completely overshadowing her otherwise well-acted sidekicks, Roxie Hart and star lawyer Bill Flynn.

The staging is a thoroughly choreographed sequined orgy in übergraphics, tightly designed musical tableaus, where it gets all it can handle in razor-sharp choreography and a showy stage design by Michael Levine.

A spectacular of light that is said to keep around 7,000 lightbulbs busy. It’s simply a damn good show, according to the New York Times.

The musical originally dates back to 1975 with a 1996 Broadway revival that is so popular it’s still playing over there!

The story of celebrity criminals and star lawyers is great gossip, and actually written by a crime reporter, inspired by a famous murder case in 1920s Chicago.

A juicy real-life tale of two women who murdered their lovers but were acquitted and got away with it, thanks to their talented media spin and attractive appearance.

Many will remember the 2002 musical movie version starring Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which grossed $300 million on a $45 million budget. Michael Jackson was considered for Gere’s part, but not signed, and John Travolta turned down the role. I recall Gere surprising as a more than capable vocalist with damn nice slick looks.

The Komische Oper in Mitte is currently under renovation, and the company plays at the excellent Schillerheater in West Berlin, which also served as a stand-in for several seasons during the Staatsoper Unter Den Linden’s renovation a few years ago.

Komische’s position as one of Europe’s most secure destinations for wide-ranging theatrical entertainment is abundantly clear after this convincing musical production, which shows how to cut it at top international level.

Master director Barrie Kosky is beloved by many for his stunning, show-stopping opera and operetta productions, and I look forward to reviewing his upcoming production of Puccini’s Il Trittico, opening May 3 at the Amsterdam Opera House.

Here and now, five stars from GOT TO SEE THIS for Kosky’s highly entertaining Berlin version of one of Broadway’s biggest and longest-running musical hits.