MusicalReviewSouth East

Chicago – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Book by: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by: John Kander
Lyrics by: Fred Ebb
Associate Director: Tania Nardini
Choreographer: Ann Reinking
Reviewer: Dan English

There is a scheming feeling on the cell block as Chicago comes to Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK tour.

Directed by Tania Nardini, the show set in 1920s Chicago is more of a slow burner than a sizzler, telling the story of how Roxie Hart (Hayley Tamaddon) gets swept up in a world of game during her murder trial thanks to smooth talking lawyer Billy Flynn (John Partridge), all the while desperate to emulate Vaudeville hero Velma Kelly (Sophie Carmen-Jones).

Hayley Tamaddon’s Roxie transforms from the naive murderer to a conniving narcissist, largely thanks to her lawyer Billy. Tamaddon’s captures her character’s transformation well, more so in the second half when Roxie’s obsession with being well-known becoming ever greater. Tamaddon thrives a lot more in the show’s second half, where there is more scope for her to use more movement in her musical performances. There is also opportunities for her to utilise her comedic talents, which she does well and this is something that benefits the show greatly.

John Partridge is the smooth-talking Billy Flynn, Roxie and Velma’s lawyer who is the original King of Spin. Partridge’s Billy is manipulative and commanding, driving the performance through its murder trial based plot while maintaining a level of razzmatazz that comes with the role. Partridge’s vocals cope well with the demands of the role and although it would be enjoyable to hear a less tame version of Razzle Dazzle, Partridge still delivers on a good performance on this.

Sophie Carmen-Jones is Velma, Roxie’s idol and rival and the original Vaudeville star. Carmen-Jones displays an array of musical theatre talents throughout this show, in a performance that only goes from strength to strength. It does feel that Velma’s role in this production is reduced somewhat, particularly in the mid-section, but Carmen-Jones makes up for this with three excellent vocal performances towards the conclusion.

Sam Bailey’s Mama Morton is enjoyable, particularly in her interaction with Velma, but like her, Bailey’s character appears underused, and her apparent corruption is almost missing in this musical. That said, Bailey’s opening performance of When You’re Good to Mama is memorable and there are touching moments between her and the other inmates in the second half.

Ann Reinking’s choreography enjoys moments of brilliance, with the choreographed human puppetry in We Both Reached for the Gunhighlighting Reinking’s talents as a choreographer as well as Tamaddon and Partridge’s abilities as musical theatre performers. There is a feeling that some of the routines are slightly too static, more so in the first half, yet it is still executed to a high standard by the show’s ensemble cast.

John Lee Beatty’s set design for this touring production is brave, relying on minimum set and incorporating the orchestra into the designs. The orchestra does take up quite a considerable proportion of the stage and this does impact on the choreography, leaving just a small performance space at the front and to the side. The lack of set is in part redeemed by the impressive lighting design from Ken Billington, who perfectly encapsulates with his lighting the various settings, from prison to Vaudeville stage, but also manages to capture the change in Roxie’s character from naive to ruthless in his designs.

One issue this play does have, perhaps in part because of the onstage orchestra, is with its sound design (Rick Clarke). On the whole, the musical performances are strong from Chicago’s performers, yet there are times when their voices are drowned out by the orchestra, which at the very least is frustrating. There is an argument that there’s a level of tameness in some of the vocal deliveries, but this is not helped by the blurring of sound levels, particularly in the louder numbers. What is impressive about the design, however, is that there is success in combining sound, light and choreography in this show.

Some of the vocal performances and choreographed routines save this production, particularly in the second half where the quality is much improved and is not hindered by technical issues, and by the end, there is a real feel-good factor as the curtain closes. There is a definite feeling that this show could be pushed even further to master that sizzling seduction that is synonymous with Chicago, but it still captures the charm, musicality and humour that is expected and despite its issues, does undoubtedly has some razzle dazzle.

Runs until: 5 March 2016 | Image: Catherine Ashmore

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