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Naughty But Nice

Terra C. MacLeod turns nasty as the murderous Velma Kelly of "Chicago."

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So which one is the real MacLeod?

After my conversation with her, I'd have to conclude that, unlike her character, MacLeod could never commit a double homicide and then try to turn it into an opportunity for career advancement.

But she must be tapping into something dark deep inside, because she's been winning accolades across the country with her portrayal, the Palm Beach Post calling her an "icy amazon" and the Orlando Sentinel saying she projects "just the right combination of bitterness and resignation."

MacLeod doesn't perceive her character as bitter, however. "She's vulnerable," says the actress, who's been playing the role since starring in the French premiere of "Chicago" in 2003. "She was on top and she gets kicked down," MacLeod says. "She has to develop new survival skills and learn to protect herself."

That's a generous take on Velma, a 1920s vaudevillian who famously starts the musical with a bang by shooting her husband and sister after finding them in bed together. She becomes just another member of an all-female murderer's row whose only hope for freedom lies in the media-manipulating ways of lawyer Billy Flynn. The show's dark subject matter, cynical attitude, and stylized, suggestive choreography by Bob Fosse made it a moderate hit when it first opened on Broadway in 1975. But the rousing revival in 1996 starring Bebe Neuwirth, the musical was launched into the theater stratosphere: It's logged nearly 3,800 performances (placing it ninth on the all-time long-running shows list), spawned international tours, and prompted the Academy Award-winning movie version in 2002.

In the touring show, Billy is played by Gregory Harrison, the 1980s-era hunky poster boy most famous for his longtime, co-starring role in "Trapper John M.D."

"He's a lovely person," MacLeod says. "You can't ask for more from an actor than being open and willing to listen, and Greg is very generous and sweet. He's still a hunk, too," she adds. "Ladies will be pleased."

Over the years, MacLeod's stints with touring shows have taken her all over the world. She lived in Japan for two and a half years, and Paris for six months, and she's entertained Canadian troops in Bosnia, Israel and Egypt. "It can be life-changing, seeing things from such different perspectives," MacLeod says. "Places like Bosnia — there's a richness to the culture even though there's been a lot of turmoil. It really humbles you."

She's never been to Richmond but says she loves the South. "There's so much history and the people have always been kind and open to me," MacLeod says. Kind, that is, as long as her Velma tendencies remain confined to the stage. S



"Chicago" comes to the Landmark Theater Dec. 27-Jan. 1. Tickets cost $50-$60 and are available through Ticketmaster, 828-8100.

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