Writer: Fred Ebb &Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Original Director/Choreographer: Bob Fosse
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Award-winning Chicago returns to the UK Tour scene with this star-studded production. Written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, it’s based on Maurine Dallas Watkins’ play of the same name. A journalist by trade, Watkins wrote for the Chicago Tribune during the prohibition era of the 1920s. She covered murders and the subsequent trials, finding herself drawn to the sensationalist aspects of the cases, dubbing two of her subjects as Jazz Babies corrupted by men and liquor. Chicago is based on the true story of cabaret singer Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan.
The Prohibition-era certainly brought the worst (and best) out in criminals, their corrupted stories, and truth about the American justice system. The media of the time sensationalised the criminals with a sympathy seeking justification of their crimes to become overnight celebrities. Taking the spotlight is Velma Kelly (Sophie Carmen-Jones – EastEnders) and Roxie Hart (Hayley Tamaddon – Emmerdale) who commit murder, but seek acquittal with the help of Billy Flynn, a smooth-talking, money-grabbing lawyer (John Partridge – EastEnders).
Velma Kelly introduces the show with the racy All That Jazz and delivers a warning that we are about to see murder, greed, corruption, violence, treachery and adultery. The story unfolds as Kelly is arrested for a double murder, while those present are introduced to murderess Roxie Hart. In turn, Hart is also sent packing to Cook County Jail, where the inmates make their acquaintances and confess their crimes in Cell Block Tango. Velma and Roxie fight for lawyer Billie Flynn’s attention throughout, the media providing the platform for drumming up sympathy and support. The more in the public eye, the more Billy is drawn to them. Razzle Dazzle is a high spot and a real show stopping number. Roxie is prepared for her trial; however, it doesn’t go quite to plan (at least, her plan), especially now she must contend with her status as a “celebrity murderess”.
Kander’s jazz cabaret-style musical numbers are balanced perfectly with Fosse’s ordered, slick and smooth choreography. The production is set against John Lee Beatty’s dark staging, reflective of the narratives poignancy and the eras black history of the Prohibition Law and consequences. The staging works well, matched with William Ivery Long’s attention-grabbing costumes and Ken Billington’s eclectic lighting, successfully drawing out the key characters and setting the mood.
An enjoyable performance is given from the talented cast, particularly Carmen-Jones, Tamaddon, Partridge, and Jessie Wallace as the corrupt Matron Mama Morton. During the Finale the musical director, Léon Charles with the live orchestra on stage, personally acknowledges the cast one by one and is a welcome touch. Chicago delivers an enjoyable evening of entertainment. There is seductive dancing, smooth movements and catchy and glitzy musical numbers.
Runs until 26 November 2016 and then continues to tour| Image: Catherine Ashmore