Music and Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb
Director: Walter Bobbie
1920s Chicago. Murder. Fame. The days when Chicago was a mix of prohibition era criminality and the excitement of Jazz. The story is based around both – a prison full of murderesses whose crimes were mostly committed under the influence of illegal alcohol and easy access to firearms. These crimes make front page news and the women become famous overnight as their stories are eagerly read about.
Central character Roxie Hart (Hayley Tamaddon) is one such woman. Fed up with her rather dull life with strait-laced husband Amos (Neil Ditt) she looks for extra-marital excitement. When her lover Fred Casely (Francis Foreman) threatens to leave her, she sees red and shoots him. At first,Amos takes the blame for her until he discovers she’s been playing away – at this point, he can no longer cover for her and Roxie finds herself awaiting trial for murder. Tamaddon gives a confident and assured performance, creating a believable and enjoyable characterisation.
In prison, Roxie meets Velma Kelly (Sophie Carmen-Jones), a fellow criminal who’s glamorous appearance and notorious crimes had already made her famous. Kelly has the press where she wants them with the help of prison matron, Mama Morton (Sam Bailey), and lawyer Billy Flynn (John Partridge). So when Roxie arrives and steals her limelight, lawyer and trial date, it does not go down well. Carmen-Jones offers strong vocals, a flawless performance and is well suited to the role. Bailey is strong as the songs get a little higher but appears to struggle on the lower notes of When You’re Good To Mama, she is also not quite as big a presence as you might expect from the ‘mother hen’ of the girls.
Ditt’s Amos is a pathetic character but the audience very much warms to him and he wins the pity vote. His rendition of Mr Cellophane is well performed and it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic towards him. In contrast Partridge’s Flynn is confident and rather smarmy yet once again it is hard to dislike him. They Both Reached For The Gun is definitely a highlight, in particular, Partridge’s vocal display at the end. One criticism, however, is that his speech tends to get lost, possibly through his slightly nasal American accent so it’s hard to hear what’s being said some of the time.
The set is predominantly black and minimalist – everything from the on-stage orchestra to the costumes (which do not leave much to the imagination), and what the audience gets is a smooth, slick and sexy production with sensational choreography from Ann Reinking – in the style of Bob Fosse – and the occasional burst of white of glitter to break up the black. This is not a negative, however, as it works extremely well and helps to create atmosphere. The ensemble is fantastic andwhen they all start to dance it’s mesmerising – All That Jazz being a highlight.
This production offers all that you’d expect from one so well known – a good story, a fantastic array of musical numbers (Cell Block Tango a good example), a talented cast and sizzling choreography. Apart from a few minor issues – some mentioned above as well as a slightly delayed start and one or two issues with crackling microphones – this is a brilliant show and has nice additional touches such as the orchestra’s occasional interaction and indeed their ‘moment’ after the curtain call.
Catch it if you can – and don’t forget your jazz hands.
Runs until 9July 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore