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Un Viaje a Chicago

Chemistry: Bianca Marroquin and Marco Zunino in "Chicago" (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Broadway’s Chicago with Latin American Stars

On a recent trip to New York City, I did something I never thought I’d do again. I went to see Kander and Ebb’s Chicago on Broadway.

The show tells the story of an adulterous housewife named Roxie Hart who gets away with murder and embarks on a vaudeville career with sister murderess Velma Kelly. This production opened 16 years ago and has spawned dozens of productions across the globe, as well as an Oscar-winning film. In fact, it’s become the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Only the big British behemoths Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Miserables have had longer runs, and two of those have closed.

What enticed me to see Chicago again? The casting.

The producers have paired Peruvian stage and telenovela star Marco Zunino—making his Broadway debut—with my favorite living Roxie, Bianca Marroquin. Okay, I’ll date myself: I saw the immortal Gwen Verdon in the original production back in 1975. Petite Miss Marroquin has the effervescent charm of Verdon and pulls your eye with magnetic power when she dances. Her sense of comedy is sparklingly brilliant and she simply exudes charm. Actually, if you saw Chicago at Shea’s during either of its last two tours to Buffalo, you saw Bianca Marroquin—and you probably had no idea she is Mexican. Her English is perfection.

The North American crowd may not have heard of either star, but they’re big in Latin America, and the Spanish-speaking fans who flock to the stage door of Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre are proud to see them on Broadway. Marroquin starred as Maria in the most recent Mexico City Sound of Music, appears on the Latin soap opera Esperanza del Corazon, and is a judge on a Latin American version of Dancing with the Stars.

The magical allure of Broadway can add luster to any star in the world, and the producers of the show have used the appeal of a Broadway credit to keep Chicago running with some of the world’s top talent. Britain’s Ruthie Henshall, and Germany’s Ute Lemper have appeared in the production. The current Velma is from South Africa.

This staging of Chicago has been performed all over the planet, but to play on Broadway a performer has got to be able to convince an American audience. Sure, Melanie Griffith, Robin Givens, Christie Brinkley, or Brooke Shields, who have all played Roxie, can satisfy an audience with nothing more than name recognition. Unfamiliar to American audiences, Bianca Marroquin actually has to be terrific—and she is. Indeed, the delightful chemistry between Zunino and Marroquin made the trip back to the Ambassador Theatre well worthwhile.

Actually a retread of a concert version done as part of New York’s Encore Series, which presents musicals from the past at City Centre, this version of Chicago recouped its investment faster than any musical in modern history.

Beyond cheap producers, however, the inspired casting is what keeps this Chicago going.

The original 1975 production was a star vehicle that paired the legendary Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera as Roxie and Velma. It had a modest life after those two Broadway icons left the show. By contrast, the current revival, which began in 1996 with Anne Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth as Roxie and Velma, has seen a litany of replacement Roxies, including Charlotte D’Amboise, Sandy Duncan, Marilu Henner, Robin Givens, Karen Ziemba, and the stars mentioned above. Christie Brinkley will step back in when Miss Marroquin leaves in April.

Billy has been played by an even longer list of performers, beginning with James Naughton and continuing with actors ranging from Brent Barrett, to Hinton Battle, to Taye Diggs, to Louis Gossett, Jr., to Michael C. Hall, to George Hamilton (yes, really), to John Schneider, to David Hasselhoff, to Alan Thicke, to Tom Wopat, to Usher, to Jerry Springer (again—really), to Buffalo’s own Eric Jordan Young. The original 1975 Billy was the great Jerry Orbach—before he was a television star.

The current company is a case in point.

Handsome, graceful, and blessed with wonderful comic timing, Marco Zunino appeared in several South American soap operas and television mini-series as a teenager before studying acting at New York City’s Circle in the Square Theatre School. He continued his career in Peru, where he became a bona fide star of the outrageously popular soap opera industry. He then turned to the stage, starring in Latin American productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story, Rent, and Cabaret. He also appeared in a South American version of Dancing With the Stars—and won! Next year he is scheduled to star in the first-ever Latin American production of The Boy from Oz, based on the life story of singer/songwriter Peter Allen, a role originated by Hugh Jackman. His Billy projects playful sex appeal with total confidence and control.

Together, the two stars make humorous reference to their Latin American origins, occasionally peppering the dialogue with Spanish interjections to the delight of their hometown fans. The boost of energy from the audience helps buoy the 16-year-old show aloft. Many shows begin to feel tired and routine after a couple of years on Broadway. To its credit, Chicago feels as fresh and tight as a brand new show. When in New York, Chicago is an appealing choice—still!