A long-running show in the West End can lead to a sense of false security for the theatre-goer – you take it for granted and assume that there’s plenty of time to go along and see it, after all, it’s not like it’s going anywhere right?
So when it was announced that Chicago was closing at The Cambridge Theatre to make way for Matilda The Musical, that complacency was rocked somewhat, although needlessly as, it turns out. Now in its new home at The Garrick Theatre and with a (almost) whole new cast, the show is alive and high-kicking; it seems that there is still plenty of razzle in that dazzle.
Chicago is a tale of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery… ‘all things we hold near and dear to our hearts’. The story is loosely centred around the plight of Roxie Hart, whose abandoned dreams of a life on the stage are reignited when she finds herself inadvertently at the centre of the media spotlight for murdering her lover. Chicago is a city where sin sells and if you want to get ahead, you need to lie, cheat and manipulate your way there.
Award winning actress America Ferrera takes on the role of the ‘misguided murderess’ and let me tell you, there ain’t nothing ugly about this betty! The bad hair and poncho from her American sitcom days are long gone. Instead, Ferrera sizzles onstage, oozing glamour and sex appeal whilst playing the sweet-and-virtuous-victim act to perfection. Her voice doesn’t quite match up to her more experienced co-stars, but she more than holds her own.
Ferrera is backed up by a superb principal cast, including James Doherty, who returns to his role as ‘Mr Cellophane’, Amos Hart. Doherty steals the audience’s hearts as his beloved wife uses his blind adoration to further her own needs, earning a rapturous round of applause as he trundles off without his ‘exit music’.
Also returning as the jailhouse’s mother hen, Mama Morton, is Jasna Ivir. Full of soul and sass, Ivir’s big voice fills the stage in her numbers and she sparks well against the sensational Amra-Faye Wright as the hard-hitting vaudevillian, Velma Kelly, incarcerated for the murder of her husband and sister. The most pleasant surprise of the night for me though was Darius Campbell. To be honest, I went in with a pre-conceived idea and hadn’t expected to like his performance as Billy Flynn – but I did. The handsome Campbell wonderfully encapsulates the silver-tongued lawyer who skilfully wraps the press around his finger, twisting the truth to paint his clients in a more sympathetic light. He emits an air of smug confidence onstage without alienating the audience and possesses a strong, dulcet-toned voice.
The real stars of the show are the ensemble though. The perfectly sculpted dancers are scintillatingly sensual in the precision of their routines, the slick and sultry choreography turning the heat up to boiling point – Chicago is worth seeing for the six-packs on show alone.
The stage design that sees the onstage orchestra interwoven into the musical performances adds to the show, rather than detracts, and there are some brilliant visually- effective moments courtesy of the lighting department, such as in the courtroom scene.
Chicago is a sexy, vivacious, full-blooded production with a tremendous cast that not only offers a feast for the eyes, but delivers plenty of laughs as well. It provides a somewhat cynical view of the justice system as it’s turned into nothing more than a three-ringed circus, but relishes in its immorality while retaining a factor of likeability in its culpable characters. Sin sells: hey, that’s Chicago!
By Julie Robinson
Music/Book/Lyrics: John Kander and Fred Ebb
Co-Author/Original Director: Bob Fosse
Director: Walter Bobby
Choreographer: Ann Reinking
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Content updated 1st May 2014