Phoenix Theatre, London – until 6 October 2018
The classic musical is sharp and sassy as ever but a few of the characterisations could be better defined.
Chicago is a musical that seems to have it all: a strong and catchy soundtrack, sharp and sassy characters, choreography that is as sexy as ever and with an interesting backstory on which it is based.
The story of Chicago is based on the two real-life cases of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner – both imprisoned for the murder of their partners – but released thanks to their ability to use the press to their advantage as readers became fascinated with their crimes and lives. Reporter Maurine Watkins, having covered their stories, soon transformed it into a play which then was turned into the classic musical.
Chicago the Musical follows the story of two of the sassiest females in musical theatr, Roxie and Velma,a as they fight for their lives and freedom after murdering their partners, relying on the help of smooth talking lawyer Billy Flynn to try and get them off the hook.
The production now at the Phoenix Theatre is still very much the same one that was last seen in the West End and yet somehow it still feels as classy and fresh as ever thanks to the vibrancy of the performances and of course the memorable choreography that still thrills.
But it would be fair to say that some might find given the lavishness of current West End musicals makes Chicago’s presentation look basic, ordinary and tired but actually, the simplistic style of the production serves to highlight Fred Ebb and John Kander’s music perfectly. It is also great to see a show that places the orchestra front and centre of the stage, meaning that the ‘Entr’acte’ is actually one of the liveliest that I have heard in a theatre for a long time.
The cabaret style setting also allows the choreography to take centre stage well, as highlighted during numbers such as ‘Cell Block Tango’ and ‘Roxie’ but it can make the story seem a bit flat in places.
A lot of the musical’s success does depend on the strength of the cast and their characterisations and in this production it is slightly hit and miss. Josefina Gabrielle as Velma Kelly is suitably sharp and self-centred with a hint of sassiness that is enjoyable to watch. Vocally, she is equally strong with her renditions of ‘I Can’t Do it Alone’ and ‘All That Jazz’ are suitably engaging to listen to and capture the audience’s attention effectively.
Opposite her as Roxie, Sarah Soetaert could bring out her character’s manipulative side more as Roxie comes across as more ditzy than anything else and not really capable of murder – particularly in the beginning when she is arrested, she just lacks slightly in conviction. But during numbers such as ‘Roxie’ and ‘Me and My Baby’ she is confident and sassy, adding a lot of confidence to her performance that brings a different side to the character out.
Cuba Good Jr as lawyer Billy Flynn certainly has the charisma and personality in terms of bringing the character to life with a flair and charming sense of humour that is enjoyable to watch. Of course, vocally during ‘All I Care About’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ his singing isn’t perhaps the strongest or accurate but at least he attempts to add colour and personality to his vocals.
Overall, it is pleasing to have Chicago back in the West End to offer new audiences an opportunity to see the classic musical. But it is just lacking a little bit of sparkle in the performances to make it really ‘Razzle Dazzle’.