Phoenix Theatre, London
Thanks to the strong casting, there seems to be a new lease of life in this classic production of Ebb and Kander’s musical.
The success of any production of Chicago relies on two things: a great sounding orchestra who make the most of every note of the music and a strong and charismatic cast to make the characters shine the way they are supposed to. Thankfully this production now starring Alexandra Burke and Duncan James has both to make for a truly entertaining evening.
This classic story of murder, corruption, greed and manipulation is still as sharp and sexy as ever – but the way in which it is all presented does come across as slightly tired – particularly if you have seen it on numerous occasions.
But this is not the fault of the cast who all bring their characters vividly to life with plenty of style. Burke gets the balance of ditziness and yet the manipulative sides of Roxie’s personality down perfectly – adding unexpected moments of humour that add something different, particularly during ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’. Vocally, she is strong, offering a sultry version of ‘Funny Honey’ that is occasionally too quiet to make out in places.
Meanwhile Laura Tyrer as Velma is sharp and sarcastic throughout, capturing the vanity of the character with great style as well as giving a fantastic rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ that gets the show off to a great start. She is a perfect match for Burke’s Roxie, making the sparring between them both seem even sharper than usual.
Elsewhere, Mazz Murray as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton is a force of nature in this production, capturing the character’s sense of control over the women in the prison with great power and charisma with her rendition of ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ proving to be a highlight of the show.
Duncan James as the slick and sophisticated Billy Flynn is suitably charming and has a great presence on stage, allowing the audience to see just how manipulative his character really is.
In terms of the production itself, it is really the music and choreography that is allowed to stand out. As always it is great to see the orchestra literally taking centre stage, with the entr’acte proving a great start to the second act and enthusiastically received by the audience. Their performance is of high quality and really helps to keep the energy levels high. Meanwhile, the choreography is as slick and sophisticated as ever, with ‘All I Care About’ and of course ‘Hot Honey Rag’ proving to be highlights. But at times given the fact the orchestra takes up a lot of the on stage space, it can feel slightly crammed – no matter how well the cast perform the routine, making it appear slightly cautious rather than sharp in places.
But it can not be denied that thanks to sharpness of the performances from the cast and orchestra, Chicago feels as though it has a new lease of life about it that will please those who have seen it countless of times. It is still sexy and entertaining but it needs a new presentation style to encourage new audiences to see it as the way in which it is presented now is beginning to feel slightly tired.
By Emma Clarendon
Chicago continues to play at the Phoenix Theatre. To book tickets click here or visit: Encore Tickets, Ticketmaster.co.uk, See Tickets.com, ATG Tickets, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk ,Love Theatre.com and From the Box Office.