“Give ’em that old razzle dazzle, razzle dazzle ’em”, sings oily star lawyer Billy Flynn (Russell Watson, who seems to be having a great time) in this stripped-back revival of Chicago.
After 47 years, this musical (book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, score by John Kander, lyrics by Ebb) still has the power to entertain. It might not have the depth of another Kander/Ebb classic, Cabaret, but it moves quickly and keeps your toes tapping.
Set in the 1920s jazz age, this story of two murderesses – Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) and Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) – has its roots in a 1926 play which was filmed the following year with the stunning Phyllis Haver as Roxie.
With the ten-piece orchestra and their conductor/MD Andrew Hilton visible on stage, the action takes place largely in front of them. Their presence gives them a role in the production beyond being ‘the band’. When they let rip, their jazzy beat is fabulous.
A series of songs linked by short narrative pieces (“And now, Miss Velma Kelly in an act of desperation”), Chicago is a satire and a showpiece. It might benefit from a bit more flair in act one but it never flags from the first note of “All That Jazz”.
The dancing, choreographed by Ann Reinking in the style of Fosse, is breathtaking, delivered by a tight and showy ensemble. It’s sexy, subtle, and sensational. Brookes’s moment with her boys in “Roxie” is flapper fun, while Scott’s “I Can’t Do It Alone” fizzes with energy.
Mama Morton, sassy matron of the Cook County Jail, is played here by Sheila Ferguson, who displays a heart of steel in her dealings with her charges, with just a little crack appearing in act two. Her vocals are fine and she displays the right amount of attitude.
Chicago‘s strength is in its score, not its storytelling, but the theme of celebrity obsession is still as potent now, and there are moments of laughs (BE Wong’s Mary Sunshine is fun) and pathos (Amos (Jamie Baughan), dull husband of Roxie, catches the heart in his solo “Mr Cellophane”).
Chicago isn’t really showing signs of age as its themes are timeless and its artifice assured. Walter Bobbie directs this tour very much in Bob Fosse’s shadow; but that’s no bad thing.
There are some Chicago cast changes at the end of the month, so check future dates here for information.
You can watch Chicago at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 21 May 2022 (last performance for Russell Watson). Tickets here.
Image credit: Tristram Kenton
I dedicate this review to my dad (1934-2021)