‘Threateningly exhilarating’: CHICAGO – West End ★★★★★

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Sticky, Ticket recommendations by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

Phoenix Theatre, London – until 6 October 2018

Openings are running in themed sets – three Restoration comedies coming along like No.11 buses, and now two nights running we have trials as showbiz and showbiz ending in court. After the neon ITV world of Quiz, comes the unmatchable razzle-dazzle of Kander and Ebb’s 1975 shocker, under its Broadway director and with Anne Reinking and Gary Chryst giving it a loving update of that jerky, threateningly exhilarating Bob Fosse choreography.

Here are the murderous snarls and artful smiles, supple cynicism on endless sheer black-stockinged legs, and a hot hot band. Which lives as usual onstage, 1920s jazz culture itself a character in the telling of the story of Roxie, Velma and the merry murderesses of Cook County, competing for the flourish and finagle of Billy Flynn the lawyer…

This time round our Billy is the Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr, no less, looking happy as a sandboy on the West End stage. He’s a workaday basic singer but that doesn’t matter when you ’re a slinky mover, delivering deadpan comic contempt, and always an exuberant stage presence whether smothered in fan-dancers or giving ‘em the old razzle dazzle in a rain of sparkles.

Paul Rider is the best Amos I have ever seen: his ‘Mr Cellophane’ brings the house down in that slyly calculated momentary quietening of pace: Mr Decent Ordinary Sap lost in the predominant whirl of perfect limbs, stumping bravely puzzled in contrast to that graceful subversive sexy grotesquery of dances which you never forget.

The London cast is glorious: Sarah Soetaert as Roxie is a curly blonde doll, a platinum minx with a voice of honey: Josefina Gabrielle Velma Kelly, venomously acrobatic (O,the cartwheels!).

Our own Ruthie Henshall is a svelte, sharp -suitedly new interpretation of  Mama Morton  (she’s played  both Roxie and Velma in the past, a record triple).  Her voice is glorious, and mingling with Gabrielle’s in the fabulous “Nobody’s got no class” moment, a proper treat. Others get their moment too, notably Nicola Coates as Go-to-hell-Kitty doing an impressive banister slide. Indeed all the movement is well thought of, down to the single drunk juror who manages to feel up both Billy Flynn and Roxie.

Oh, and cheers to every last member of the band under Ian Townsend, hitting show-off solos and pumping ensembles with authentic jazzman glee.

Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.