Death Becomes Her is Broadway magic in the heart of the second city!

Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

The theaters of Broadway offer a wide array of options for the New York theater goer from unknown, off Broadway shows that leave all but the most sophisticated audience member wondering what they’ve seen to amazing theatrical spectacles designed to draw in audience members of all types who come to ooo and aww at Broadway magic. Death Becomes Her (book by Marco Pennette, maybe best known as the showrunner for “Ugly Betty” and music and lyrics by Julia Mattison and Noel Carey) is exactly the latter and will not disappoint audiences when it arrives in NYC this fall.

I love my Second City and would never dream of leaving but I also love a good Broadway show, so was ecstatic to attend opening night of the Death Becomes Her pre-Broadway premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago on May 19. The mood on the purple carpet was electric, and I could feel the love and energy throbbing behind the creation of this spectacular show. When Michelle Williams, best known as part of Destiny’s Child, rose onto stage from the depths below to open the show, the audience roared with a standing ovation that was only matched as she once again had the final notes with the closing curtain. 

Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Death Becomes Her is a new musical based on the 1992 film of the same name starring Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willis and Isabella Rosselllini. Both the movie and the musical tell the story of two frenemies, Madeline Ashton, played in the film by Streep and Helen Sharp, played by Hawn. After Madeline steals Helen’s fiance, played by Willis, Helen plots revenge on Madeline. As her plot is being carried out, Madeline is lured to the lair…home of a mysterious enchantress, played by Rossellini who offers her a potion to keep her young forever, but with some secret and alarming side effects. Of course, hilarity, but with a dark twist, ensues as we learn Helen has imbibed in the same potion.

The movie to musical genre has never been one to impress me much before and I was a little skeptical about a stage adaptation’s ability to match the acting royalty of the original movie, but director and choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Tony award winner for his work on Newsies) with the help of illusion designer, Rob Lake (whose credits range from Disney to Adele) took a fast moving and cleverly written script and score and threw in top talent to turn Death Becomes Her into the best production of this genre I’ve seen in a long  time.

Michelle Williams struts and stuns as Viola Van Horn, the mysterious person tempting these two women with her potions. However, while Willams vocals pop, she is a supporting role to the trio of Megan Hilty (Madeline Ashton), Jennifer Simard (Helen Sharp) and Christopher Sieber (Ernest Menville).  Among these three actors are at least 5 Tony nominations and countless other awards and noms and they carry the show from the spaces between William’s opening and closing notes with a vibrant and fast moving energy. Theater in Chicago is always great, but the performances from these three were truly something cosmic. While I knew I was seeing perfection throughout, when Hilty and Simard belted out Alive Forever, a perfect eleven o’clock duet, I literally wept.

If you see this show, whether in Chicago or NYC and are not impressed with the quick witted numbers or brilliant stars on stage, then you will be impressed with the sets (Tony Award winner Derek McLane), costumes (Tony Award winner Paul Tazewell) and lights (Tony Award winner Justin Townsend). I audibly gasped at several scene changes from Broadway stage door, to glamorous NYC penthouse, to Viola’s spectacular lair. The costumes are fit for any diva and the lights dazzle in every scene and illusion. If you have seen the movie, you know much of what will happen, including some iconic scenes that came rushing back to me as I watched on Sunday night. But as this is a new show, I will leave the thrill of their discovery live on stage to you, the future audience member.

Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

Has this been a review of “name dropping?” Why, of course! But I don’t believe Madeline Ashton, wherever she may be right now, still young and beautiful and slowly decaying, would have it any other way. I predict that the amazing spectacle that is  Death Becomes Her will land quite successfully this fall in its Broadway home. But if you are a lucky one here in Chicago to catch it first, I encourage you to get your ticket soon!

*The show is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Death Becomes Her is now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph, Chicago, until June 2. Performance times vary; check the website at Broadway in Chicago. Find more information about current plays on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.

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