Writer: Maurine Dallas Watkins
Book: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Director: Walter Bobbie
Choreographer: Ann Reinking
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Inspired by the sensational crime stories she covered during the Prohibition Era for the Chicago Tribune, and in particular the trials of two real-life Jazz Babies accused of murdering their lovers: the much-married cabaret chanteuse Belva Gaertner (the inspiration for Velma Kelly) and Beulah Annan (Roxie Hart), Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote the 1926 play Chicago. Spawning a 1927 silent movie; a 1942 romantic comedy Roxie Hart; the 1975, Bob Fosse adapted stage musical and it’s record-breaking 1996 revivals in the West End and Broadway; and an Oscar-winning 2002 film. Little did she know that her gloriously acerbic observations would still have a life 90 years on. Its depressingly resonant critique of celebrity and the media, and its message that truth and justice don’t always prevail when you can get away with murder if you can simply “razzle-dazzle ’em”, is still a winner with audiences today.
David Ian and Michael Watt’s production is pared back and stripped to its bones. The 11-piece band is, as ever onstage throughout and the only decoration a smattering of chairs. The coal black costumes by William Ivey Long, from the 1996 revival are here but in need a refresh, looking a little dated. However, Ann Reinking’s adaptation of Bob Fosse’s original choreography is still pin-sharp and the jazz hands are still much in evidence, the ensemble’s execution is glorious, but the cramped staging, largely caused by the enormous box structure the band inhabits, inhibits the overall effect.
With such a minimalistic staging it’s down to the quality of the cast to carry the piece. Sophie Carmen-Jones (Velma Kelly) is the most successful among them, her take on the fame hungry femme fatale is beautifully judged and she possesses an excellent voice and impressive dancing skills. Hayley Tamaddon (Roxy Hart) while a fine singer, wrings every last ounce of comedy from a role that would have benefitted from a bit more light and shade and West End veteran and soap John Partridge as lawyer Billy Flynn, a man little bothered by his clients’ guilt or innocence, more by their ability to pay his $5000 fee, is suitably oily. Neil Ditt as put-upon husband Amos Hart and A. D. Richardson as journalist Mary Sunshine provide fine support.
This isn’t a production without its flaws, it stalls in too many parts to be truly knock-out, and there are periods when the interest wanes considerably. There’s also an overall feeling that it’s all a bit underpowered and lacking the requisite razzle dazzle. That said, it still entertains and the glorious score when belted out by the live band and the fabulousensemble, isas always, a joy.
Runs until 24 September 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore