Some of That Jazz

A griffin, says one dictionary, is a mythical creature; a fabulous beast, says another. A conceivable relative, the Griffith, first name Melanie, is fabulous and mythical in her own right, even if her head is not an eagle’s but a sexy gamine’s, and her body coltish rather than leonine. And she doesn’t roar but speaks in that seductively breathy half-whisper made famous by Marilyn Monroe and the young Jackie Kennedy.

Piquantly, Melanie Griffith makes her transition from screen to stage as Roxie Hart in Chicago, across the street from where her husband, Antonio Banderas, stars in Nine. Griffith is no more singer and dancer than she is stage actress, but, all things considered, she acquits herself tolerably, if not dazzlingly. She does have personality, which, along with innocent-sexpot looks, goes a longish way toward stage presence. She sings in a somewhat amateurish but heartfelt manner (her monologue, “Roxie,” is especially winning), and if Chicago is a toddling town, maybe Chicago can have a slightly toddling (“to walk with short, unsteady steps,” both dictionaries) dancer. She does execute the dances, but without the full Fossean élan, and with some facial unease, as of someone silently counting, although this could improve with time. Only her cartwheel fell conspicuously short—or, more precisely, sideways.

“She does have personality, which, along with innocent-sexpot looks, goes a longish way toward stage presence.”

The greatest loss was in the concluding “Hot Honey Rag,” where she and Deidre Goodwin, the Velma Kelly, did not seamlessly, thrillingly blend. Goodwin is an accomplished dancer who can also sing and act, but I pity anyone trying to take over a part that Chita Rivera in the original production, and Bebe Neuwirth in the revival, made indisputably their own. The rest of the current cast, several of them old Chicago hands, cannot be faulted, and the show continues to be one of our premier musicals. Anybody deluded enough to think he or she has done the necessary by seeing the wretched movie version should make prompt amends by catching and feasting on the real thing onstage at the Ambassador.

A big hit of the current Fringe Festival is the musical Slut, by Stephen Sislen and Ben Winters, said by its spunky director, Sarah Gurfield, to explore that bit of slut in everyone, whether in the traditional or the self-promotional sense. Between them, the co-authors have a background in journalism, playwriting, filmmaking, playing in a punk-rock band, and running a transcription service, and so seem well qualified in at least the secondary type of sluttishness.

Their plot concerns the roommates Dan, a med-school grad eager to publish a scientific book, and Adam, a Lothario specializing in one-night stands who hopes to sail around the world in his boat, thus globalizing his sleeping-around. To discuss Dan’s joining in as first mate, the two adjourn to a bar, where Adam hits on Delia, a would-be rock star, but she chooses to move in with the shy and scholarly Dan. Other characters include two girlfriends of Delia’s, one a swinger, the other risking marriage to a rich Long Islander, as well as a generous assortment of downtown barflies and other purportedly colorful types. Also, amusingly, the ghost of Ferdinand Magellan, who cautions Adam about the sea. No one, however, cautioned the authors about a sporadically droll but basically creaky book full of all-too-predictable surprises.

The music, too, is predictable, with only one flavorous number. But at least, unlike that of Urinetown, whose success it hopes to emulate, it does not leech on Kurt Weill. It is enthusiastically played by the musical co-directors Amy and David Southerland, and three others. The songs are well rendered by a dedicated cast of nine playing 33 parts, in which Stephen Bienskie, as Adam—admittedly the meatiest role—is most impressive, although several others also show potential. Gurfield’s direction deals resourcefully with a limited budget and the cramped space of the un-air-conditioned Wings Theatre, which, on a hot night, doubles as a steam bath. Though much workshopped, the show is still in development, more slutlet than slut, and in need of added pizazz. I am especially amazed by its elevating one sexual infidelity into a turning point of the plot: Even Puccini’s bohemians could do better than that. Still, if the creepier Urinetown could make it thanks to anointment by the Times’ second-stringer, why not this?

Some of That Jazz