When I did my military service in 1983-84 as officers in the medical team in Hässleholm, I had a friend who was going to audition for the Dragshow Group Surprise Sisters. His name was Adolph Stefansson, was a trained nurse and also worked as a model. Or so he stated. I fancy he was not good looking enough to be reproduced on paper. He was that kind of guy who on exercises in the field crushed crackers, shredded apples, added sugar and served us a kind of apple pie. We probably would have become good friends, but at the time I was a little afraid that I would be found guilty by association. In any case, he had heard that I had taken dance lessons - I danced one summer, in a tableau vivant at Kalmar Castle - and also been involved in a school revue, so in his world, I was as good as Bob Fosse, if any of us had had a clue who Bob Fosse was. Anyway, he asked if I wanted to take a look and say what I thought of his number.
A little hesitant, I followed him into an empty room at the barracks, and there he began to sing and dance for me. Or: mime and dance. I do not remember whether he was brilliant or wretched, I do not remember what song he performed, but I remember how embarrassed I felt when an officer opened the door and asked what we were doing and Adolph replied: "Bergman and I are just dancing!"
In any case, I do not know how it happened, but the tape he had his songs on ended up with me. I honestly do not remember how. I don't think I stole it, but I may very well have borrowed it and forgot to return it. "Wall Street Crash" was written on the tape, in pen, and when you play back the tape, there were a number on S & M, and a swing medley, and also a whole lot of recordings of the same song, one okay, but old song, from like the twenties.
It took years before I realized that the song endlessly repeated wasn't at all old, it just sounded that way. It was All That Jazz from Bob Fosse's Chicago.
One Thursday evening I sit lodged on the Culture City Theatres, Kulstas, web page and browse around a bit, eager to see something the coming Sunday, and discovers that there are tickets to be had at the matiné of Chicago. In the second row, almost in the middle. A single place. The cursor is hovering over "Buy", but I make a deal with myself: if it still there Saturday morning, I will buy it.
I would like to write that I slept uneasily, but that would be a lie. It was so certain that the seat would be gone that I was not even worried about the possibility that it would still be there. The alarm rings, I make myself a coffee and sit down in front of my iMac. The seat is still not taken. Fuck. I press the "Add" and enter the necessary information. But that does not go through. Please come back in a while or something. It's just that now, after a while, the seat is gone. I have reserved it, it seems, but I can't access it. Now I have to have that place. I check the opening hours on Kulsta, seeing that several businesses inside the centre opens at eleven on Saturdays, so I coldly assume that the doors will open sometimes after ten. Just before I slam the front door, I go online to the ticket page. The place has cropped up again. I make a second purchase attempt, and the same thing happens: no go. I jump on my bike, thinking that if I only get to KulStas ticket machine before the seat is released again, I can wait it out.
It's just that Kulsta opens at 11.00. Why would they open the house if none of the venues are open? This is no heat cabin, not that early in the day anyway. I stomp around outside, half an hour before they open, now more certain than ever that my seat will be gone, and I am considering deciding that if that is the case, it's the universe's way of saying that I should not see this show. When I am stressed my reasoning easy goes a bit fatalistic.
The doors open. I rush in, with brandishing my wallet and credit cards. My seat is still there! I take it! It is taken! (Cue: roaring masses, as when someone scores at Wimbledon, or whatever it is that they do.) The rest of the Saturday will go down in history as the day before I saw Chicago at Kulsta. The day I swaggeringly waved my ticket around, and people said, enviously: "Oh, I would also like to see that show..." And the day when I did not answer: "But go and buy a ticket then, you f*cking lazy Macy, how do you think you'll ever be able to see it unless you get off your ass and pull out your MasterCard?"
Sunday morning, I was sure I wouldn’t like the show. Sure as hell. As sure as one is that you have tooth decay when you go to the dentist and then not have any cavities? Rock solidly sure, in other words.
I chained my bike to the railing over the Sergel Square, went and bought a vegetarian burrito, mango soda and guacamole at Zócalo on Harbour Street(Hamngatan), opposite Åhlens, and then climbed up the moving stairs and crouched in the window on the walkway over Beridarebanan. When the food was finished, I started thinking that sugar makes the world happier and rushed down to the ICA inside the Central Station and bought for 50 kronor of natural sweets. I had sort of imagined that I might get a sugar low at the intermission.
As the doors opened, I pulled out my ticket and rushed in. I had decided long before to splurge on a program, just because, and was somewhat that kind of cavities sure they would be sold out, which they were not. I found my seat, which miraculously did not disintegrated when I approached, and sat down.
On my right hand, and on the two chairs in front of it tumbled down a bunch of middle-aged women with a sort of lesbian sensibility, whom I suspected was where there for Mama Morton and the women's prison romance ambiance.
Am I alone in thinking that post menapausal women somewhat looks like lesbians? Did that sound a bit dumb? Ignorant even? I do not mean it like that, I meant that they look as if they stopped acting silly, got themselves together, got a haircut and started to prioritize.
In the seats behind me there sits two older musically interested couples. Such that do not have all the canoes in the stables, or the notes in the scale, or whatever you say in these kinds of cases. Not all the balls in the pants? Suffice it to say that they don't know all steps to the choreography. They're in that age when you are a little bit confused, when you'd rather remember than taking in something new. They had no idea who was in the show, besides the brothers Dyall. Yep, you read right: the Brothers Dyall. Not Sharon Dyall (The actress playing Velma). Not only Kalle Dyall (Her famous brother, also in show biz). The Brothers Dyall. Those two who have been so good in that show, you know: "The one about, Sammy Kaye ... or whatever his name is."
"No, you mean Danny Kaye .."
"Yes, I do. Danny Kaye jr. "
"They were brilliant, both."
"Do they have principle parts in this show too?" one of the women wonders.
"Yes, I think so, it's a musical."
"Oh, is it?" the other woman wonders.
"Yes, isn't it?"
"Well, it probably is."
One of the men begins humming ”Chicago That toddlin town”, a song that has nothing to do with tonight's performance besides the name:
"Chicago, Chicago, la-la-la-la-la, Chicago, la-la-la-la-la,"
"I know that one," interrupts one of the women, who apparently is both musical and compassionate.
On my left side sits a young couple holding hands. They are as taken from the last scene from Brief Encounter, the Noel Coward movie about unrequited love from the time when people simply did not get divorced. I imagine that he has got a job in New Zealand, and that she is afraid of flying, but has promised to come over, even though they both know it's not going to happen. If they were in a musical, their number would be called The Erica Jong Song.
Suddenly it starts.
It's about Chicago, America's second largest city, with over two and a half million inhabitants. 1920s. Alcohol Prohibition. Bootleggers. Gangsters. Booming decadence. It's about media celebrities and showbiz. It is about Roxie and Velma, celebrities because they are women, celebrities because they've murdered, celebrities because they are in prison, waiting for acquittal or conviction. But above all it is about, as Billy Flynn, Roxie and Velma's lawyer, sings:
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How Can They see with sequins in Their Eyes?
What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em And they;'ll never catch wise!
I have a friend, Goran Glamour, who makes highly specific theater costumes. If you need sensational feather creations, adult fotboll mascots, wigs of foam rubber, or simply something quite impossible, then he is the guy for you. He loves dogs, and often has several at a time, and once, when he was in his studio working on a project that required a lot of stuff covered in glitter, he noticed, when he was out walking his little yapping darlings, they must have licked the glitter sand, for what came out of them was ... sparkly. In plain language: they shit glitter.
And that's somewhat what this musical is about. It serves you something stinking, but it looks so delicious, that one forgets what lies beneath.
The story of the musical Chicago began in 1924, as a newspaper articles in the Chicago Tribune, for an audience that was obsessed with the new kind of celebrity: the female killer. The reporter, Maurine Dallas Watkins, reported on the two women suspected of murder, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, both accused - not for killing their husbands - but their lovers. Belva Gaerner was suspected of having shots her married lover in her own car, abandoned the vehicle and was later found in her apartment with bloody clothes, and claimed to not remember anything. Been there, done that, right?
Beulah Annan was accused of shooting her lover, Harry Kalstedt, in the back as he tried to leave her, and then sat for four hours drinking cocktails, listening to the foxtrot recording of Hula Lou on the phonograph, and watching her victim slowly die. It's a pretty mediocre, easily forgotten melody, and I really hope Kalstedt was not conscious; being forced to listen to that song over and over again can get anyone to lose the spark of life, and such cruelty should face the death penalty.
What is sensational, and the condition of this story, of course, is that both of the women were acquitted.
The articles were so successful that Watkins herself decided to write a play, Brave Little Woman, about the women, and in 1926 it premiered on Broadway, under the new, more catchy name Chicago. In 1927 it became a silent film, Chicago, and in 1942 a film again, Roxie, with Ginger Rogers.
Sometime in the 60's the play was read by Gwen Verdon, Broadway star and wife of choreographer and Broadway director Bob Fosse, and together they tried to buy the rights, but the writer Maurine Dallas Watkins was now a deeply religious woman, and it was not until after her death that one managed to persuade the estate to sell. In 1975 the musical, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, had its premiere on Broadway.
From the time David Ingham flashes his butt when he as Fred Casey jumps in bed with Lisa Nilsson's Roxie Hart, until the curtain goes down for the two waving Roxie and Velma, I find myself feeling sort of drunk. I feel as if I can not see clearly. I feel like when one, greatly hung over, tries to piece together a kind of reality of a trailer version of the night before. Clips of split-second moments. Already halfway through All that jazz, I know: I need to see this again. Thus determined, I can relax and accept that I will not be able to take everything in. I sit so close to the stage that I can see what a fantastic job the dressers and costume department does: I see no powder dust anywhere, no make-up spotted collars, and no unpolished shoes with theirs colors worn off. It's as if it was premiered yesterday. No, not even that: the first dress rehearsal. Everything looks as if it is the first time it is used.
The first time I saw Chicago was the famous franchise revival version in 2000 at the Oscar Theatre. I, my friend Siddhartha Westervijk and his boyfriend Calisto Solo had seats on the front row, in the stalls, and when the dancers came up and, like hood ornaments from hell, or foul gargoyles, leaned out over the edge of the stage, then I crawled down into the seat, terrified I would sort of be sucked over the ramp, onto the stage. I had never seen something like this, I was used to kick-lines, hoofers and quite reserved jazz dance. This was sexy - not just for the straight men - sophisticated, unadorned and simply perfect. The film, from 2002, is pure pornography for most musical nerds. And in October 2010, me and my friend Patti Li Leuk saw a production at the Norrköping City Theatre in a version of which I today do not remember much, except Petra Nielsen and LED screens.
We have lost a great musical star in Lisa Nilsson. Who knows what she could have done if we just after her hit Himlen runt hörnet, (Corner Of The Sky) pushed her on stage at the Circus, Oscars, Gota Lejon, Maxim and Intiman, in Sweet Charity, Cabaret, or Sunday in the Park With George. She is fan-fucking-tastic, and I find it hard to take my eyes off her. And best of all: she can still do all those roles she could have done then. She may just have to hurry a little. She sings like it was the early nineties, and she dances like she's taken lessons since. Who knew?
I was for some reason a little nervous when I heard that Roine Söderlund would put on Chicago with Lisa Nilsson, Sharon Dyall and Dan Ekborg in the roles, and with costumes by Lars Wallin. It sounded just too good. It sounded just so good that you wonder which idiot had not thought of it before? And it sounded so good that the pessimist in me said: This can never go right. Somewhere along the way someone is going to make a mayor mistake, and the whole thing will capsize.
But then the previews begin, and reports start coming back from the front, excited. Patti Li Leuk, who has been on one of the first previews, says that this is one of the best shows he has seen in Sweden. Now I'm even more afraid: what if everyone loves it, but I hate it? It's happened before: I'm not going to mention any names, but the incident goes under the codeword Kalops och Kalsonger (Beef stew and Underpants).
If Lisa Nilsson is Charlie Chaplin, the sad clown, Sharon Dyall is the Marx Brothers. I think of Mame, Funny Girl, and in a few years: Mama Rose in Gypsy. She is as tailored for Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, and would be wonderful in Noel Coward's Sail Away. And why not sign her for Anything Goes, right now?
I think that this show would be very good with costumes by a different designer. But with this costume designer it is quite possible one of the most visually hottest musicals I have ever seen on the Swedish stage. Swedish scene; Fuck it: on any stage. From the graphite linen-like coats of the inmates, the sophisticated gauzy transparent pajama-like prison outfits to the magnificent feather concoctions in the court scene, everything is excellent. And where does one buy fishnet stockings with such a wide net? Put Follies on, do it now, and give the man a budget.
Dan Ekborg. What can I say? Just when you started to think that we just had Falkman, Ekborgs skiff sails up on the horizon. After seeing him, I find it difficult to see anyone else in the role. He feels natural, as if his way to tackle it is the only one possible. And he has a voice that can sound until the plumber comes. And he is not a singer who's acting, he is an actor who can sing. There is a big difference.
And I can finally see Kajsa Reigardt in a real musical! As Mama Morton she infuses a kind of sensitivity to the role and avoid turning it into a parody of a dyke. She is also a sort of prisoner to the system. Almost as much a victim as a perpetrator. She is the first Morton I've seen that seems to care about the truth, not just the money.
The dancers, some of them almost rudely good-looking, dance as if they were in audition for Chicago - The Musical for Roine Söderlundh to be staged at the Culture City Theatre. In other words, they have never been better, cleaner in the movement or more accurate. It's like they're someone told them that tonight is a live stream of the show around the world, to be released later on DVD.
One has also re-introduced a scene that has been omitted from all previous productions. A poker scene among inmates, which shows that if everybody cheats you have to cheat the best. It is generous, and brave, and is appreciated by a musical mad man who thought he knew it all.
Sometimes, when a show receives good reviews, it feels like a certain kind of audience finds their way inte the theatre, those who are only there to see if what the paper writes is true.Those who do not intend to make an effort. Those who, if they read that a pizza parlour says they make the world's best pizza, will go there and buy a pizza just to be able to say that they probably have tasted better. It was good, sure, but was it really the world's best? They do not think so.
This was such a crowd. We don't really get into it. After Dan Ekborg pulled off a tap-dance, I thought that he was probably worth an applaud. I was the only one. My three hand claps died quickly in the public "okay, what more can you show us?”-mood. It may also have something to do with that we are watching a musical at one o'clock at noon, a sleepy Sunday.
I do not go out during the intermission. I get out up my natural sweets and start nibbling. There is much to think about. Behind me the older gang is all up in arms. One of the men boast that he had seen the musical before, at Gota Lejon, and when I finally turn and corrects him and says it was Petra Nielsen, not her mother, Monica Nielsen, who played the lead role, and it was on the Oscar Theatre, not at Gota Lejon, it's not long before I hear him whisper to the others that I probably was wrong. Or was it Miss Saigon Monica Nielsen appeared in?
It is lucky that Sharon Dyall and Lisa Nilsson are so incredibly fabulous, for behind them are a couple of killers, ready to take over. This is a bunch of lethal ladies. These are pro's. There are some who, if you give them a finger will give you a life's story. These are girls who have never done anything in general, who - if they happen to get caught in the edges of a spotlight - will give you something quite unforgettable.
The fixed set design, two scaffoldings on either side of the stage, just as Art Deco as an old movie organ, has mostly the function of an attractive back drop and podium for the orchestra. What you then need in the various scenes one simply rolls onto the set. You need room to dance. Bath, tables, chairs, beds and up-right pianos appear and disappear just as fast as if each new scene would be a new spread in one of those 3D children's book where the pages are folded out, so that they come out and meet the readers. It is great looking as Radio City Music Hall and as impressive as the Chrystler Building.
In a show filled with irony and cynicism, there is a clean, pitiful reality, doomed to lose, to go under, and that's Hunyak, the Hungarian, whose only understandable words are "not guilty." Elisabeth Carlsson interpretation grabs me, just because it is so beautiful, fragile, positive and naive, and it somehow manages to weigh up all the wonderful superficiality. She is a lyric soprano at a school for the deaf, a fragrance of jasmine in a pigsty. When I see her I think of something that Martha says of her son in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Something that he was the only clean thing in a dirty world, or something.
Mary Sunshine, the role of the female reporter who traditionally is played by a man, is difficult. When the musical was written, in 1975, I can imagine that a man in drag could easily deceive an audience, as this was, after all, several years before Arnold and La Cage Aux Folles, but nowadays I don't think there is anyone who doesn't immediately see that this is a man. So when Billy Flynn says that nothing is what it appears to be, snatches of Mary's wig and clothes and shows that she is a man, we are not surprised. Something else is needed. A better trick. Maybe she should completely disappear when the clothes are taken away? Maybe she should show herself to be Velma, or Fred Casey, or something? I have no answers, only suggestions.
Not far from Elisabeth Carlsson Hunyak stands Fredrick Lyckes Amos Hart. The man who loves. The man who is not loved. The man that nobody sees. He is the underdog in this high-kicking, pistol-waving threshing machine, and the only role in which we feel we should at least have a chance of surviving in. Mr. Cellophane, my ass, the guy is luminous! And absolutely brilliant!
There was a lot in this show which was good, but do you know what was the best?That I've already booked another visit
Gratefully, Joakim Clifton Bergman 495: -
So far, the performing arts in 2014 has cost me 7490: -