Richard Phibbs via Entertainment Weekly
While the Christmas season brings with it snow and cold – especially in New York – Broadway is still heating things up with some steamy shows that will melt away the icy chill of the season, no matter how low the temperatures go.
So what’s hot this holiday season?
Now the second longest-running musical on Broadway – it surpassed “Cats” last month, making it second only to “The Phantom of the Opera” – “Chicago” brings the sexy style of the 1920s jazz age beautifully to life through steamy Bob Fosse choreography, music by John Kander and Fred Ebb and barely-there costumes designed by Colleen Atwood, who won a Tony in 2003.
Based on a 1926 play by Maureen Dallas Watkins, about real-life cases she reported as a journalist, “Chicago” showcases the public’s insatiable hunger for dirty laundry, which began with the romanticizing of gangsters during the era in which the show is set and hasn’t ebbed since the musical premiered on Broadway in 1975.
Ebb and Fosse teamed up to write the musical based on Watkins’ original, and Fosse also choreographed and directed.
Each musical number was inspired by traditional vaudevillian works, augmenting the theme of crime as entertainment, especially so if the criminals were attractive women like the show’s main characters, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly.
When “Chicago” was revived on Broadway in 1996, it featured Fosse-inspired choreography – the pared-down style emphasized the show’s salaciousness – by Ann Reinking, who also played Roxie Hart to Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly.
Fosse believed his performers should “make love” to their audience, and New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley was quick to point out when the “Chicago” revival opened that the cast did exactly that, turning up the heat even if the premise of the show was icy-cold.
“Chicago” is playing at the Ambassador Theatre.
While the backdrop is darker than “Chicago” – Berlin in the frenetic days just before World War II – “Cabaret” offers sexy music, also by Kander and Ebb, and brings with it a decadence that reflects the city as it was prior to the start if the war.
It was that sexually-charged gluttony that Sam Mendes highlighted during his 1993 London revival, and that is featured in the current Broadway version.
“Cabaret” – which first opened in 1966 – tells the story of cabaret singer Sally Bowles and her relationship with American writer Cliff Bradshaw, who both stay at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house. With both their rooms and the tawdry Kit Kat Klub where Sally works as the backdrops, the show captures the dread that came with the growing power of the Nazi party juxtaposed against Sally Bowles seemingly carefree attitude about life, which she emphasizes as a way to hide any true emotion.
While Bowles and the prostitutes of the Kit Kat Klub exude evident sex appeal, it is the Emcee of the club, who acts as an overseer of sorts throughout the show, that is the most sexually charged, especially so in the Mendes version, played by an edgy Alan Cumming.
“Cabaret” was revived on Broadway in 1987, 1998 and 2014. It is playing at Studio 54.
“Kinky Boots” is the story of a young man who inherits his father’s failing shoe factory and transforms it by crafting sleek and sexy shoes for drag queens – who up until then had had trouble finding footwear that was sturdy enough to support them.
Although it gets its sex appeal exclusively from the shoes – as emphasized by the song “The Sex is in the Heel” – the show also celebrates the power of fashion to tease and entice, which gives it a subtle sexiness that contradicts the title, which is anything but.
Inspired by a true story, “Kinky Boots” features a book by Harvey Fierstein, whose previous works to feature drag queens include “La Cage aux Folles” and “Torch Song Trilogy,” and music by Cyndi Lauper, her first turn at writing a Broadway musical.
“Kinky Boots” took home six Tony Awards in 2013 – including one for Lauper, the first female to win in the songwriting category – and despite the drag club set, brings with it the ideals of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which emphasized that you never really know someone until you walk around in their shoes for a while.
In the case of “Kinky Boots,” those shoes are large-size stilettos, but the compelling message remains the same.
“Kinky Boots” is currently playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
50 Shades: The Musical
This off-Broadway musical might be a parody of the erotic, S&M-themed novel “50 Shades of Grey,” but it still offers handcuffs, whips and leather and hip-thrusting dirty dancing, making it a fun, filthy take on the darker side of sex.
Perfectly uninhibited, the show is a romantic comedy that’s more sex than romance, but even as it explores women’s obsession with the E.L. James book series, it celebrates the subversive nature with song and dance numbers that bring to mind the best of Broadway, with an eye-brow raising twist.
“50 Shades: The Musical” is currently playing at the Elektra Theatre.
Author: Brenda Neugent