Music & Lyrics – John Kander & Fred Ebb
Sliding its way into Bradford’s grand Alhambra Theatre is the highly anticipated production of musical theatre favourite Chicago, early into a mammoth UK, Ireland and international tour until July next year. Sexy and sassy, this vaudevillian homage has played consistently on Broadway since its creation by Kander and Ebb and choreographer Bob Fosse in 1975, as well as being produced worldwide.
The story has always played second fiddle to the exuberance and style of the production. Set in the fast changing 1920s jazz age Chicago, the plot revolves around the fates of several women who are on trial for murder – usually their husbands or lovers. Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) joins a hareem of women including Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) in Cook County jail pleading not guilty due to self-defence. All crave the attention of celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Darren Day) to literally save their neck but it is Roxie Hart who proves she will do anything it takes to not just save her skin but to be the ultimate instant celebrity in attention seeking 1920s Chicago. The plot drives the play just enough to lurch from one set piece to the next – the newly presented ‘act’ in a show that is firmly placed in vaudeville.
The design of this production accentuates the Brechtian elements of the script. The action is framed within a large golden picture frame – a possible symbolic mirror reflecting the fact we still live in a society that craves instant fame for fame’s sake – or perhaps a framing device to further break the fourth wall in this self-referential show. The almost literal heartbeat of the show, the ten-piece band, are firmly centre stage – raised fully lit throughout (the band leader almost becoming a supernumerary character himself), again providing a cabaret style quality at the centre of any production of Chicago.
The producers have decided to go a little leftfield in the casting of some of the star roles. Luckily, they have stayed safe with Faye Brookes and Djalenga Scott shining as Roxie and Velma respectively. Scott especially oozes skulduggery and sensuality in her manipulative exploits. As the hard done by, transparent ‘Mr Cellophane’ husband of Roxie, Amos Hart, Joel Montague manages to expel the desired amount of empathy from his audience. As Billy Flynn, Day has charm but lacks the sleaze this role really requires. Similarly, Sinitta may pronounce herself as mother hen in the role of ‘Mama’ Morton, matriarch of the county jail. However, there is very little in her quiet and timid performance to back this up. The most interesting casting is drag act and Ru Paul’s Drag Race star Davina De Campo as journalist to the stars Mary Sunshine. Her soprano voice works for the main and there is a lovely little pay off from Billy Flynn as he whips off her wig and dress to prove a point in court.
As ever with many number one touring musicals it is the extremely talented ensemble cast (and band) that prove to be the engine. With minimalist set and costume the fifteen strong ensemble hit every mark and ensure the razzle dazzle is not lost in the show.
Witty, clever, sexy, and as relevant as ever in a world still driven by the desire to be famous for fifteen minutes, this production of Chicago will please its fans.
Runs until 16th October 2021