Book: Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Directed for Broadway: Walter Bobbie
Re-creation of original direction: Stacey Haynes
Once dubbed “the sexiest show in town”, Chicago has lost none of its sassiness as it rolls into Northampton this week.
The show is loosely based on real characters, written as a book by journalist Maurine Watkins in 1926 before being turned into a play, and most recently the Kander & Ebb musical we know today. It tells the story of Roxie Hart, the housewife who shot her lover in a fit of anger and persuaded her husband to fund her defence, becoming a notorious celebrity during her time in jail. In the process she cheats not only on her husband but also on her fellow inmate Velma Kelly, stealing her celebrity lawyer and proving that she can manipulate people as well as anyone.
From the off this production has the slick, sexy feel that everyone expects. The brassy on-stage band launches into the opening phrases, and the excitement from the packed auditorium is almost tangible. The ensemble is superb, here and throughout, faultlessly delivering the choreography created in the Bob Fosse style by Ann Reinking for the 1996 Broadway revival – this is the sort of stuff where the placement of a finger is as important as the placement of a leg, and it’s all delivered beautifully.
Perhaps best known for her role on Coronation Street, Faye Brookes has also had a musical theatre career and she gives us a good performance here as Roxie. Her dancing may not be as slick as the ensemble surrounding her, but the character of the manipulative, self-centred woman is clear to see and she delivers her numbers well. In particular, the work that has gone into We Both Reached For The Gun with Billy Flynn (Darren Day) bears fruit with the synchronisation we see between ventriloquist and human dummy. Day’s vocals as Billy Flynn are good, as you’d expect from a performer with his experience, and though his characterisation may lack a little of the sheen and polish that you often find he is very watchable. As Roxie’s husband, Joel Montague gives us a traditional Amos – the original Mister Cellophane. He’s self-effacing, easily manipulated and the sort of person you’re not sure whether to love or pity. It’s a nicely judged performance, and his number, as always, goes down well with the audience.
Matron ‘Mama’ Morton is a big character – big in personality, and often – as some of the lyrics suggest – physically big too. In this production, we have Sinitta Malone in the role, and her portrayal is very understated. Where we expect to be blown away by a big stage presence we’re met by a slight figure, often quietly spoken, and it doesn’t quite work. Sinitta is of course best known as a singer, and her vocals are good, though they don’t always have the dramatic impact you’d hope for.
Star of the show here is Michelle Andrews, on tonight as Velma, who takes the stage by storm. From her opening All That Jazz through to the final Hot Honey Rag with Roxie her performance is faultless. Her vocals are superb, her dialogue is delivered wonderfully well, and her dancing is a dream – she shines throughout, and seeing her work with the ensemble is almost worth the price of a ticket alone.
It’s sexy, it’s sassy, it’s funny – and despite the flaws in this production, the quality of the writing, the direction, the beautifully synchronised choreography and the sheer energy carry it through.
Runs until 9 October 2021 and on tour