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THEATER REVIEW: Take a chance on “Chicago,” starring supermodel Christie Brinkley

Ah, Chicago in the 1920s, when booze flowed freely and killing was easy, especially for the ladies of the “Cell Block Tango,” six women who plugged men for various offenses and now await sentencing – or execution.

The jail is presided over by Matron “Mama” Morton (Carol Woods), a woman with a voice and personality as big as all outdoors, who finds pecuniary success in her work (“When You’re Good to Mama”).

“Chicago,” with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb and a clever book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, is the fourth longest-running production in Broadway history, partly for its sharp portrait of corruption in the American legal system and partly for the terrific songs and choreography.

Many women have played Roxie Hart; the latest is supermodel Christie Brinkley, who reportedly adds the role to a list of “adventures” including being a boxing photographer for Don King, traveling with a rock band, climbing the Himalayas with her son and chanting with monks.

Brinkley plays Hart in the “Chicago” road show playing through May 13 at Civic Theatre.

Brinkley looks great and gives it the old college try, but she’s less than convincing as the married murderess who shoots her on-the-side lover for threatening to walk out on her. Singing, dancing and acting are clearly not Brinkley’s strengths, and though she approximates the notes and manages to get through the simplified steps, she is unable to sell the character.

But the show, despite the clunky set featuring an oversized bleachers-like bandstand for the fine 14-person orchestra (presumably this decreases the usable dance space enough to allow for Brinkley’s deficiencies in this department), is still worth seeing, thanks to the musicians and the rest of the cast.

Amra-Faye Wright has plenty of panache as Velma Kelly, who becomes Roxie’s competition for press coverage, and the required talent to go with it.

John O’Hurley (of “Seinfeld” and “Dancing With The Stars” fame) is suitably despicable as shady attorney Billy Flynn and particularly effective in the rollicking “We Both Reached For The Gun” number in which he plays ventriloquist for Roxie, singing her lines while she sits on his lap.

Ron Orbach is heartbreaking as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos, who just wants to be noticed rather than feeling like “Mister Cellophane.” Orbach actually brought tears to this hardened old critic’s eyes.

The dancing ensemble is excellent here as well, and Kander and Ebb’s music is always a pleasure to hear. So even with its deficiencies, this “Chicago” is worth a look-see.

The details

“Chicago” plays through May 13 at the Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.

Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm.

For tickets, call 619-570-1100 or 800-982-2787.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.