Bathed in bright lights, but almost shrouded by the haze of jazz, booze and dancing, lies a story of adultery, murder and greed. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “Chicago.”

Written as a stage play in the 1920s by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a Chicago Tribune reporter, the show was reincarnated as a jazzy musical by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse in 1975. Then in 2002, the movie of the show, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, walked off with six Academy Awards — including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Zeta-Jones.

The film opened in Japan in April 2003, just a month before the stage version arrived, and it’s a sure bet that many people in the audience at the Akasaka Act Theater have come to see the musical version after falling in love with the movie.

But are the two versions, stage and screen, really the same show? And is it possible that (say it quietly) the stage version might even be better?

The movie is certainly one helluva colorful picture — the sequins alone are enough to make your head spin. It also succeeds in getting up close and personal with each of the principal characters — something that the stage version doesn’t do so well.

In the musical, those leads often seem more straightforwardly characterized than they are in the movie. Take Roxie. In the film, as played by Zellweger, she comes over as an initially naive, almost appealing young woman. On stage, though, there’s no room for sympathy with a Roxie who knows exactly what she wants and will get it no matter what.

But what gives the stage version the edge is precisely that it is staged. The whole story of “Chicago” is about performances, in court and in front of the press cameras, as well as in jazz clubs. The movie never quite succeeds in capturing this in the way the musical — in a real theater and with a live audience — does.

What’s more, the screen version loses the beautiful coherence — and seductiveness — of Fosse’s choreography. Onstage, the performers are all clad in sleek black. Sure, some of the costumes are very revealing, but that’s not what makes these dancers sexy. It is Fosse’s striking choreography — from the slow rotation of the dancers’ hips to the soft, curving moves of their arms — that gives “Chicago” its sensuality.

No less remarkable is the way that, despite the dark, dreary theme, “Chicago” keeps you laughing. Roxie Hart (Emma Clifford) is just a regular housewife — apart from the fact that she has the face and figure of a model — who is married to a chubby pushover named Amos (Martin Callaghan). And what do you know? She has a lover on the side as well. Well, to be exact, she did have a lover — until she killed him. Hey, that’s what you get for trying to break up with a woman.

Clifford, high up on a ladder, gives a memorable turn as she sings “Funny Honey,” full of scorn for her “droopy-eyed pup” of a husband who’ll forgive her anything. But to her surprise, Amos eventually sees through her lies and blurts out the truth to the police. It’s bye-bye to Roxie, who ends up in jail.

There, she meets sexy Velma Kelly (Lisa Donmall) and the hottest gang of female convicts you’ll ever see. In the number “Cell Block Tango,” one of the highlights of the show, Donmall gives an outstanding performance, her throaty voice hard and cold as she purrs, hisses, kicks and spins, re-enacting the crime.

As the women tell their story, they all come to the same conclusion: They killed because the man “had it coming.” So, if you have an annoying habit of popping your gum, if you pretend to be single when you’ve actually got six wives, or if you sleep with your wife’s sister, beware. These women are out for your blood.

While she is doing time, Roxie hears about Billy Flynn (Marti Pellow, formerly of pop group Wet, Wet, Wet), the high-flying, smooth-talking lawyer who is defending Velma.

Billy uses public opinion to win his cases. By getting the murderesses to act like tragic heroines, he gets his clients’ faces plastered on the front page of every newspaper, turning them into celebrities. The press favorite has been former vaudeville performer Velma, who confesses to all the sad, sordid details of her husband’s infidelity that drove her to her crime of passion. (That’s Velma’s version, of course.)

That’s until Roxie comes into the picture.

Desperate, Roxie asks Billy to defend her, too. In the hilarious “We Both Reached for the Gun,” the two hold a press conference at which Roxie just opens her mouth like a ventriloquist’s dummy while Billy does all the talking. Pellow and Clifford’s timing could not be more exact as they perform this clownish duet. The pair milk sympathy out of the press by presenting the murder as self-defence, and Roxie finds that she’s front-page news.

But will Roxie’s turn in the limelight also fade? Or will the wannabe showgirl find out, as Velma did, that the world is always hungry for the newest stories and the latest face?

Neither woman, though, is going to give up without a fight. And how they fight is the hilarious, vicious finale of this thrilling show. Just like in the film, honor and dignity are two things you won’t be seeing onstage in “Chicago.”

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