Music and Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb
Director: Walter Bobbie
Writer: Maurine Dallas Watkins
Adaptor: David Thompson
Choreographer: Ann Reinking
Reviewer: Chris Williams
Chicago is the musical that proves the old idiom “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. This tale of crime, punishment and fame has now been delighting audiences for decades.
Kander and Ebb’s musical is a tale of trial by tabloid, a satire on the things that sell newspapers: the celebrity of murder and sex. Wannabe star, Roxie Hart, murders her lover and goes to jail after initially letting her husband, Amos, take the blame. In jail she encounters showgirl Velma Kelly, made even more (in)famous by the double murder of her sister and boyfriend. With the help – in the loosest possible terms – of Matron Mama Morton and lawyer Billy Flynn, they aim to get themselves famous… and along the way, found innocent.
Chicago is a time capsule, not of the 1920s when this is set but of the 1970s when musical theatre was changing and Bob Fosse was putting sex in choreography. The revival production’s choreographer was the original Roxie; Ann Reinking’s Fosse tribute is all shoulder rolls, hat tips and jazz hands – and then there are the skimpy costumes. The show has hardly changed since its 1990s revival. With the band taking up most of the stage in lieu of a set, the iconic music is played with immense fun and it’s clear to see why jazz is so tempting and alluring to Roxie Hart.
Unfortunately, the weakest link in the cast seems to be the most known name, Hayley Tamaddon. This is most noticeable during duet My Own Best Friend with Sophie Carmen-Jones’ Velma Kelly. Carmen-Jones stands out with her more powerful, musical theatre vocals and stage presence. Yet both characters are likeably unlikeable. Although Sam Bailey has been widely promoted as Mama Morton, the part on this occasion is played by Gina Murray; her Mama Morton has a bluesy voice and a ballsy demeanour, and it takes no imagination to believe this woman runs a woman’s prison.
Billy Flynn was played by understudy Kerry Spark; with the good looks, musical theatre voice and mega-watt smile, Spark makes for an admirable showman/lawyer.
For a show that’s 40 years old, and made its comeback 20 years ago, this is still sexy and, more than that, it is still relevant – there are surely reality TV contestants who would kill their granny to win fame. Chicago is a classic, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Runs until 30 July 2016 then tour continues | Image: Catherine Ashmore