Touring – reviewed at Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Were it not for a young reporter – Maurine Dallas Watkins – being assigned to cover the trials of women accused of murder, for the Chicago Tribune, the world would have missed out on the long-running musical named after that same city. Some very real characters from the early 20th century provided the inspiration for iconic names such as Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly and Billy Flynn – all of whom are brilliantly brought to life by the cast of Chicago The Musical, currently touring the UK.
The tale of murder, deception and glamour is played out against the backdrop of Cook County Jail, where dazzling black costumes and stage lights replace orange jumpsuits and jail bars. The media’s morbid fascination with some of its more attractive criminals enables Roxie and Velma to engineer a route to a new life of celebrity.
A social commentary on fame and justice – but more than that, Chicago is a fast-paced extravaganza, whirling through iconic numbers such as All That Jazz, Razzle Dazzle and Cell Block Tango with the cast and orchestra never missing a beat, step or line.
The principals in this line-up are equally strong, each bringing stellar vocals and a convincing embodiment of their characters to the stage. Jessie Wallace as Mama Morton, John Partridge as Billy Flynn and Neil Ditt as Amos Hart blow the audience away with their solos but are also a joy to watch working with the rest of the cast. Hayley Tamaddon’s Roxie and Sophie Carmen-Jones’ Velma both play beautifully off against each other, shining while on stage every time.
The chorus also puts on an impressive show, seamlessly transitioning from scene to scene while retaining a high level of energy throughout. Gary Chryst’s recreation of Bob Fosse’s choreography and Ann Reinking’s original choreography transports the audience back to the roaring 1920s but never feels dated.
The orchestra is the other star of the show. Under Léon Charles’ direction, the score is slick and cheeky and the musicians – centre stage throughout – work beautifully with the actors. The clever staging also ensures that the stage never feels cramped or that it is a touring production.
Particularly striking is the absence of a dull moment. The show starts with a literal bang and, never resting on its laurels, continues to ramp up the momentum throughout. As Velma and Mama Morton muse about the notion of class, the answer is evident – it’s all being held by this production of Chicago.
Runs until 15th October, then toursReviewed by Bhakti GajjarPhoto credit Catherine Ashmore