BY Brian Scott Lipton . . .

Since the Broadway revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s delicious 1920s-era musical Chicago first opened in November 1996, the fictional Cook County jail has seen countless women pass through its proverbial revolving door as the “merry murderess” Roxie Hart, who shoots her departing lover in cold blood.

Some of these ladies, starting with originator Ann Reinking, were hired for their razor-sharp skill in executing Bob Fosse’s precise choreography (such as my all-time favorite Roxie, Charlotte D’Amboise!) Others, with varying degree of talents (and who will remain nameless) were chosen primarily for their ability to fill seats.

And now, at the Ambassador Theatre, we have Pamela Anderson (who will play Roxie through June 5). Two years ago, the former Baywatch star and Playboy playmate probably wasn’t even on the producer’s radar, but she reemerged into public view this spring courtesy of the Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy, about her marriage to rock star Tommy Lee and the infamous sex tape that got viewed by millions worldwide. So, it’s not surprising Anderson has been able to fill many of the theater’s vacant seats.

What might be surprising, though, is that Anderson proves to be a persuasive and appealing Roxie. Perhaps drawing on her personal history – or perhaps she’s just a really good actress — Anderson convincingly creates “a dumb blonde” who is smarter than she looks and, therefore, underestimated by everyone around her. Her Roxie, we quickly learn, knows how to survive scandal, use the media to her advantage, and play the game once the rules have been explained. Anderson also brings just the right touch of vulnerability to the role in the show’s later scenes, when Roxie realizes that she may actually need the help of other people (specifically, her slick lawyer Billy Flynn) to escape the hangman’s noose.

Unlike some of her predecessors, Anderson isn’t exactly a triple threat. She’s a bit stiff as a dancer, but she does more-than-competently execute the Fosse moves she’s been given, especially in the show’s thrilling final number. (The “Roxie” solo, however, has been almost completely eliminated.) As for her singing voice, it’s rather small and tinny, especially in comparison to the booming Lana Gordon as her “frenemy” Velma Kelly, but it’s not like Roxie ever had the score’s best numbers.

Indeed, as more people come to Chicago over the coming weeks, I won’t be surprised if the name on everyone’s lips is Pamela.

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

Lead Photo: “Nowadays” with Lana Gordon, Pamela Anderson