Chicago – Milton Keynes Theatre

Book: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Music and Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb

Director: Tania Nardini

Reviewer: Natasha Hegarty

Directed by Tania Nardini, the show, set in 1920s jazz-filled Chicago, is more of a slow burner than the sizzling sexy show that is expected but still has a charm. Chicago tells the story of how Roxie Hart gets swept up in a world of fame during her murder trial. Desperate for column inches in the paper and a showbiz career when she gets out, Roxie does all she can to emulate her villainous hero and fellow inmate Velma Kelly.

John Partridge is at home on the stage as smooth-talking, conniving lawyer Billy Flynn and his vast experience shines through. He commands the stage in every scene and really drives the other performers on. His version of Razzle Dazzle is brilliant and oozes the confidence of a manipulative character all out for himself, without being over the top. His confident, assured performance definitely stands out.

Hayley Tamaddon’s Roxie is almost a carbon copy of today’s fame-hungry tabloid-types, desperate to see their name in print. However, Tamaddon plays the character in such a way that you can’t help but like her – and root for her to get off with the cold-blooded murder – quite a feat. She adds a comedic element to Roxie, which, in one of the more intense musicals, is actually rather refreshing, though at times a little over the top.

Her performance of We Both Reached For The Gun with Partridge is a show-stopping highlight. The use of her as a ventriloquist dummy with her lawyer pulling the strings is rather paralleled in today’s fame-hungry media-run world. It is incredibly clever and a brilliant performance from the ensemble.

Sophie Carmen-Jones plays Velma Kelly, the tough performer awaiting trial for the murder of her sister and husband which she rather conveniently can’t remember doing. She delivers a wonderful performance as Velma, sassy and self-assured right down to her posture and the way she moves but still vulnerable when she sees her future plans begin to crumble around her. Although vocally very talented, she struggles at times in the louder numbers when the on-stage orchestra drowns her out.

X Factor winner Sam Bailey’s performance as Mamma Morton certainly proves she has an incredible voice as her vocal is near perfect. Her inexperience does come across at times compared with the more seasoned theatre veterans but it’s clear she’s grown into the role and will more than likely continue to do so throughout the tour. Her interaction with Velma is quite touching and their performance of Class is actually sweet.

A special mention goes to A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine, the easily manipulated journalist who falls for the slightest sob story. The stunning performance of A Little Bit of Good highlights Richardson’s incredible range – a standout performance.

The dancers are exceptional. Their talent really brings Fosse’s original choreography, brought up to date by Ann Reinking, to the stage; the dancers really bring the story to life.

Having the orchestra on stage is a lovely addition to the show and makes use of them as another character. It does, however, limit the stage a little and feels like the dancers could do with a little more room at times but it is still visually beautiful. The only downside – and it is quite a large one – is it overpowers the singers throughout. It seems far too loud at times, especially during the bigger numbers in the first act and it is frustrating for the audience. It is a shame, especially when the show boasts incredible voices among the cast, but it really has an impact on the show.

For the sexiest musical in theatre, there’s definitely something missing, though a lot of the concerns could probably be resolved by sorting out the sound problems. It isn’t without its issues, but it is still an entertaining show with plenty of sass, attitude and a stunning soundtrack.

Runs until 19 March 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore

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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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