Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Book: Fred Ebb &Bob Fosse
Director: Scott Faris, after Walter Bobbie
Choreography: Gary Chryst, after Ann Reinking
Musical Director: Adrian Kirk
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
Kander &Ebb’s seminal musical, Chicago, visits Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre this week, with plenty of swing to its well-known numbers, including ‘All that Jazz’, ‘Me and My Baby’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’. With a ten-strong band on tiered seating dominating the stage, music is literally brought to the fore in this touring production. The musicians are a substantial part of the action, and revel in the support they easily rouse from the audience, particularly at the opening of Act II.
Set in Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s, Chicago follows the story of Velma Kelly (Genevieve Nicole) and Roxie Hart (Ali Bastian), both on trial for murder, and both competing for their share in the limelight. In prison, their needs are eased by money through the corrupt, but well-meaning Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Bernie Nolan), who can ‘make a call’ to secure the best lawyer money can buy – smooth-talking and master-of-spin, Billy Flynn (Stefan Booth). Of course, a lawyer to the stars can only guide the client who happens to be that week’s headline news.
There is plenty of the slick choreography that one expects from this show, but due to the large static stage dominated by the musicians, the dancers need to work hard (as, indeed, they do) in a limited space. Admittedly the stage block allows use of internal entrances and exits, but these don’t really get full use until after the interval.
There are enjoyable performances from the lead rôles. Genevieve Nicole’s Velma Kelly is smooth and sultry, and Ali Bastian brings a sense of naivety to otherwise manipulative Roxie Hart. It was great to see Bernie Nolan as ‘Mama’ Morton, although she didn’t seem to really relish the suggestive lyrics of her opening number ‘When you’re good to Mama’. Her duet with Velma, ‘Class’, in Act II on the other hand, had poise. Stefan Booth’s performance as Billy Flynn was convincing as well as fun, particularly in his manipulation of Roxie as his ventriloquist’s dummy in ‘We both reached for the gun’. Jamie Baughan also deserves special mention as down-trodden Amos, Roxie’s unlikely husband.
Unfortunately, none of the leads seem to have the vocal ‘belt’ that is required in this musical and several of the numbers lacked any feel of a big finish. With this lack of power, we seemed also to lose an element of the sassiness that Chicago prides itself on. That said, however, neither leads nor ensemble can be criticised for not playing to their strengths. The band packs a real punch and lovers of Kander and Ebb’s fantastic songs will not be disappointed.