Theater Review: Brandy Norwood stars as Roxie Hart in ‘Chicago’

In typical Chicago fashion, there’s another famous face playing the role of Roxie Hart in the infamous Broadway music. This time, it’s Brandy Norwood – yes, that Brandy – Moesha, “The Boy Is Mine,” “I Wanna Be Down,” “What About Us?” Brandy. This is Ms. Norwood’s first foray into theater (if I am not mistaken), and Chicago is no easy task to take on. While I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Brandy live, I decided to see her live for the first time as Roxie, in Chicago.

On July 3rd, I attended the show, with no expectations. To be honest, I just couldn’t picture Brandy in the role, but I kept an open mind. On her first number, “Funny Honey,” she delivered quite the impressive vocal performance, leaving a great first impression and left me hopeful for the rest of the show.

Brandy, as you should know, essentially began her music and acting careers simultaneously. She broke onto the scene in 1994 with her debut album, while acting on ABC sitcom Thea from 1993-1994 and then starring in her very own television sitcom, Moesha, from 1996 to 2001. So, as far as Brandy’s acting in Chicago, she did not disappoint! Her interpretation of the role was a bit different, and unique, from other performers I’d seen, though. She was a bit silly, sweet and playful in her portrayal; though not overtly, and those who hadn’t seen the show before probably wouldn’t notice, I just wasn’t used to such a take on Roxie. For example, when Velma performs “I Can’t Do It Alone,” she was smiley, bubbly and not as shady as Roxie “usually” is. It was an interesting change of tune. Perhaps she made the change to better connect with her own personality.

As far as her singing in the show goes, she certainly didn’t disappoint vocally. It was interesting to hear Brandy sing on the Broadway stage, live and unfiltered. On record, she is famous for her vocal arrangements and background vocal layering. She blends her smooth yet husky voice in harmony with herself on record, and is in general a more subtle, nuanced vocalist. However, the stage called for a more clear, direct – and solitary – vocal delivery from Brandy and she met the demand well. The only struggle she had, it seemed, was with projecting loud enough for the stage. She has a naturally soulful and soft voice, and while powerful at times, she knows how to control and restrain her voice (when it comes to being a R&B singer, this is a respected talent that some people simply don’t have). Her best numbers as Roxie were “Funny Honey,” “Nowadays,” and “My Own Best Friend.”

Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile experience to see Brandy play Roxie. If anything, what I walked away with from the experience is a strong desire to now see Brandy live, singing her own music. Not only did she prove herself to be a great live vocalist during the show, but undoubtedly weeks of performing live in such a rigorous setting could only improve her already great voice. While I don’t think I’ll be stopping by the Ambassador Theater again to see Brandy as Roxie (I’ve seen Chicago enough times as it is) I now cannot wait for her to release new music and tour – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So, for that reason, I say this venture is a major success for Ms. Norwood.

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