UK Tour — until Jul 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin
Chicago’s tale of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery whispers back into the Edinburgh Playhouse with a thrum of double bass, a twitching off-beat on the drums and a haunting moan of muted trumpet.
There’s little change to the show itself – beyond the star names – from previous tours. What is different is that this post-pandemic tour is as tight as cyclist’s lycra in practically every department, with a company that is so on point that you feel they are about to burst with internal tension.
The show tells the story of murderous chorine Roxie Hart, in a series of broad sweeping, choreographed song/tableaux. Unhappily married to garage mechanic Amos, Roxie heartlessly dispatches her lover Fred with a gun when he threatens to break off their affair.
This is not a particular problem in jazz age Chicago of 1928, however, where murderesses are big news, amidst sensationalist tabloid journalism. From her cell in the women’s block of the Cook County Jail, helped by matron “mamma” Morton, Roxie employs lawyer Billy Flynn to take her case and cast his razzle dazzle on the jury to get her off.
This oozes tension from the off. The combination of Fred Ebb’s stage-whispered lyrics, John Kander’s minimal jazz score and the slow drag and drop of Ann Reinking’s choreography – in the style of Bob Fosse – is a guaranteed thrill. But it needs an on-form chorus to really make it zing.
And zing they certainly do, never so much as to upstage the stars of the show, however. Slipping easily between chorus and named roles they provide a strong framework around which the story can be told..
Djalenga Scott is pure spite as murderess Velma Kelly, already in prison and ready to make her headline appearance in court. Faye Brookes is more naive and pushy as Roxie, and although clearly not quite as clever as she thinks she is, she is still possessed of much guile.
Both actors have all the moves necessary to bring the choreography to life and are focussed enough to merge into the chorus when needed, while their voices to do justice to their numbers. But it is by their characterisation that they really soar, adding depth to what can be a rather glossy, superficial show.
Strangely enough it is Sinitta who doesn’t quite cut it here. She delivers Mama Morton’s key When You’re Good to Mama number well enough. But it lacks the character possessed of those around her, there’s no frisson of danger about her and you can’t really tell whether she is a fellow jailbird or jailor.
Having the band in a steeply raked bank of seats on stage is always something of a thrill, and it is telling when the standout number of the night is also the quietest. Or at least it sets out that way as the band lay down a groove on bass, drums and keys which is so smoothly sinuous that it could be a python.
The number is Roxie, with the groove seeming to go on for ever as Brookes struts the stage, whispering her story to the wings and deep cooing it out to the audience. But equal billing should go to Joshua Griffith on piano, Tommy Clayton on drums and Jon Rees on double bass (and not forgetting the brass back line) for creating the ambience which sets the whole piece up.
Elsewhere, Darren Day has enough sleaze for Billy Flynn, although he is a shade off the pace when the chorus bring out the burlesque style cabaret feather fans. Joel Montague is all faint-heart as Amos Hart and brings a nice sense of the profound to Mister Cellophane. And Divina de Campo demonstrates her awesome vocal range as soft-hearted journalist Mary Sunshine without creating too much character.
It all adds up to a show which will set the spine tingling and demonstrates just how much such big commercial touring productions rely on a chorus that is at the top of its game.
Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Monday 27 September – Saturday 2 October 2021
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets Book here.