Chicago – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Music: John Kander

Lyrics: Fred Ebb

A musical theatre staple, Chicago originally opened on Broadway in 1975. Created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse and set in a crime-ridden 1920’s Chicago, it has become a seminal piece of musical theatre with multiple Broadway and West end runs, as well as the movie starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones. It is brimming with themes of violence, murder, greed, fame and jazz and perfectly encapsulates our perception of 1920’s prohibition-era Chicago. Yet somehow, the idea of notoriety over talent in the bid to become a celebrity still feels very relevant today.

The show follows the story of Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes), a wannabe jazz singer and cold-blooded murderer. Roxie murders her boyfriend before being slung in jail, but will she escape? Perhaps one of the callous characters she meets inside will help her escape the noose.

Chicago is captivating in its simplicity of presentation. John Lee Beatty’s exquisitely simple gilded frame over the proscenium arch, and a receding mirrored frame over the exposed orchestra, coupled with his plain lighting design really allows the performers to shine in silhouette. This show lives and dies on the abilities of its ensemble to dazzle an audience. And dazzle they do. From the incredible liquid movement in the first act to the stunning underlit courtroom segment, the ensemble cast is excellent. The movement is clean, crisp, and sexy, with Ann Reinking’s choreography performed in perfect unison. It is no wonder that the show has lasted over four decades. Giving us the Fosse style that has become synonymous with this show the cast routinely nails stunning still images and eye-popping lifts.

A musical famous for casting celebrities, the tour cast doesn’t disappoint, with Faye Brooks, Russell Watson and Sheila Ferguson all taking leading roles.

Both Watson and Ferguson have pedigrees as world-renowned singers and both shine in this production. Ferguson, with her easy stage presence and velvety alto, makes for an exceptional Mama Morton. She carries herself with gravitas and has an excellent on-stage chemistry with Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly. Watson with his skeleton rattling volume and silky-smooth tenor range delights as greasy lawyer Billy Flynn. The juxtaposition between his assertions that All (he) Cares About is Love and the ostentatious staging of each of his solo numbers is comical. Watson handles the role well, with an assured stage presence and a well lived-in Chicago accent. The final section of We Both Reached for the Gun is utterly spine-tingling as he effortlessly showcases his classical operatic range. His performance in Razzle Dazzle adds more than a touch of glamour to the evening and Watson is likeable in this role.

As the highly narcissistic Roxie Hart, Faye Brookes delivers a solid performance. Played in a far less aggressive way than Zellweger in the movie version, Brookes endears the audience with a light and comedic performance. She allows herself room to be both flirtatious and fallible as a character and this lifts the climactic moments of her character’s arc within the narrative. With Roxie on trial for murder and her continual emotional gaslighting of her dependable, albeit gullible, husband Amos (Jaimie Baughan), she shows herself to be devoid of morality, caring only for the fickle fame her actions have won for her. The constant competition between her and Velma for the smallest crumb of notoriety pulsates through every scene and both Brookes and Scott bring a petty bitchiness to the stage which is embroidered through every ounce of their performances.

Scott delivers a faultless performance as Velma Kelly. Sharp, witty, and sexy with a dynamic energy and a powerful physicality, Scott kicks, splits and Charlestons her way into the audience’s affections. As a character, Velma is as subtle as a sledgehammer and Scott is brash and bolshie, in scene after scene skulking around the stage with an aggressive prowess.

The orchestra within the show is a character all of its own. It remains exposed and very much a part of the action, creating a wall of diegetic sound throughout. It punches the score with pizzazz, orchestrated by Ralph Burns who is clearly having the time of his life.

This show oozes sex appeal and is a high energy, glitzy slice of showbiz. A brilliant night out, it will have you swaying your hips and clicking your fingers along with the incredible score. It is an exceptional mix of dance and jazz that runs with no gimmicks, no superfluous set changes, just sheer unbridled talent that is sure to beat the audience into submission time and time again.

A slick, sassy dance show, performed by an exceptional cast of triple-threat performers. A safe bet for an entertaining night out.

Runs Until 12 March 2022 and touring

The Reviews Hub Score

Seductive and sexy

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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