Writer: Fred Ebb &Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Director: Kevin Shaw
Reviewer: Paul Downham
With over 7,000 performances on Broadway and a 15 year stint in the West End Chicago is pretty well known to theatre goers across the globe, however this production from the Oldham Coliseum takes the show back to its vaudevillian roots. This is the first time since the 1997 London production closed that anywhere in the world have been granted the professional rights to produce a new and original interpretation of the musical, and director Kevin Shaw has brought a fresh new life to the windy city courtrooms.
Roxie Hart, an ambitious chorus girl, murders her lover. She then convinces her gullible husband, Amos, that her lover was in fact a burglar. Amos agrees to take the rap until the police convince him that the burglar was in fact Roxie’s lover. Thus, Roxie goes to jail and joins another famous stage performer and murderess, Velma Kelly. Both Roxie and Velma are headline hunters seeking to capitalize on pre-trial publicity for the sake of acquittal and their stage careers.
Marianne Benedict and Helen Power are perfect in the rôles of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart each of which shines either side of the interval as the show switches its attention from Velma to Roxie. Both women are guarded in Cook County Jail by the corrupt Mama Morton played by Shirley Darroch who has a sensational voice, which was proven during her rendition of ‘When You’re Good to Mama’. Shirley’s stage presence was such that even before you are introduced to her character it was very clear she was in charge.
Billy Flynn, played by Adam C Booth is the suave, educated lawyer who can persuade anyone to do anything and demonstrates this to great effect as he manipulates the evidence in order to try and secure a ‘not guilty’ verdict for Roxy from the jury.
The standout performance of the night was from Adam Barlow as Amos Hart. His portrayal of the vulnerable, timid man living in Roxy’s shadow was played to perfection. His solo number Mr Cellophane tugs at your heart strings as he tries to make himself seen as a person.
What is refreshing about this production is that most of the cast are actor / musicians so while they are not centre stage they can be seen sat with the onstage band playing a multitude of different instruments. Add to this the simple but elegant set beautifully lit by Jason Taylor this show has everything you would expect from a Chicago production plus that little bit more.