Chicago – Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

Music and Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb

Director: Walter Bobbie

Reviewer: Gareth Davies

Little excites the popular press as much as a criminal trial with a celebrity defendant, and Kander and Ebb’s musical satire on the interplay between crime and punishment, and fame and fortune remains an almost flawless theatrical package, with both wit and insightful analysis of the nature of fame and infamy.

Roxie Hart (Hayley Tamaddon) murders her boyfriend and initially allows her husband Amos (Neil Ditt) to take the blame. Turning to charismatic defence attorney Billy Fynn (John Partridge) to get her acquitted, she encounters Velma Kelly (Sophie Carmen-Jones), awaiting trial for the double murder of her sister and husband. And so we are plunged into a world of subverted values, where fame is the most important verdict of all.

This popular production puts the music, and the musicians, squarely at the heart of the show, allowing for a playful relationship between the band and the cast, as well as the band and the audience – don’t miss the fun and engaging finale from the band after the cast has taken their curtain calls.

Although the named cast – former soaps stars and an X Factor winner – may be the box office draws, this is truly an ensemble piece, and the production’s strongest moments are those that feature the cast of over 20 singers and dancers. The iconic opening number, All That Jazz sets the smoky, sassy tone of what is to follow, with Carmen-Jones immediately assuring us that she has the necessary world-class voice to launch this bold and sensual story.

while the antagonistic relationship of Velma and Roxie has less vitriol than some castings, the duo makes up for it with pitch-perfect harmonies on My Own Best Friend and again for Nowadays at the story’s climax.

Tamaddon as Roxie has charm and energy as she leaps and pouts her way from sinner to stardom, with a voice that handles the vocal challenges of Funny Honey, Roxie and, later, Me and My Baby. And while Sam Bailey as Mama Morton feels a little physically uncertain among a stage of dancers with almost acrobatic agility, she has the vocal power for the song which establishes her character and credo,When You’re Good to Mama, and feels especially comfortable with the harmonious reflections on the low-brow modern world in Class.

As Billy Flynn, John Partridge adopts a nasal accent and an erratic delivery which loses much of his dialogueand lacks the depth and resonant charisma that Flynn usually demonstrates. The strength of his big note at the end of We Both Reached for the Gun is undeniable, though, as is the feeling of genuine danger that he brings to a role which is usually just creepily exploitative. In All I Care About and Razzle Dazzle, however, the songs really only have sufficient vocal force when the company joins the action, demonstrating, as Velma herself sings, that he simply cannot do it alone.

As the story’s only genuine good guy, Neil Ditt brings pathos in spades to downtrodden Amos, whose apology for taking too much of our time at the end of Mr. Cellophane evokes an audible burst of sympathy from the audience. Credit is also due to A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine, whose astonishing vocal on A Little Bit of Good feels genuinely capable of shattering glass (in a good way).

But again it is the whole company which excels in creating a cohesive and fluid production, both vocally and physically, with Ann Reinking’s exquisite choreography taking its lead from Bob Fosse’s original stylings to immerse us in a world as dark and sexy and thrilling as 1920s Chicago may have been.

Runs until Saturday18 June 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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