Phoenix Theatre, London – until 6 October 2018
Everyone knows Chicago so it has a lot to live up to. For me personally, it holds a special place as it was one of the first West End shows I saw and really fell in love with. I also saw the 2016 UK tour which I loved so I was extremely excited to see what the current production at the Phoenix Theatre has to offer. Unfortunately, I left feeling a little deflated and let down.
This show isn’t bad but it definitely doesn’t have the energy and pizazz that’s expected with a show as big, bold and sexy as Chicago. The production is almost identical to the 2016 tour, with basic staging and a focus on the choreography and singing, but it seems that over two years it’s gotten a little tired. It’s almost as if the creatives decided Chicago is now in its finest form and needs no edits. Of course, the choreography is still sleek and the stage with the band in the forefront works well, but instead of being an energetic extravaganza, its a bit… old.
Taking the leads as Roxie and Velma are Sarah Soetaert and Josefina Gabrielle who do a stellar job. Vocally Soetaert is great but it’s her facial expressions which steal the show. Channeling Kristin Chenoweth at times, she is funny and light-hearted but also calculating. Gabrielle is suitably sexy and vivacious as Velma. When the ladies combine forces such as in ‘My Own Best Friend’, they complement each other wonderfully and create moments of magic.
Other than the name and legacy of Chicago itself, there’s no denying (especially from audience’s cries) that Hollywood star Cuba Gooding Jr is selling seats and drawing people in. It’s a shame that his performance falls flat. Gooding has charisma and stage presence when speaking and acting but his singing feels somewhat strained and is underwhelming especially in his money-number: ‘Razzle Dazzle’.
Chicago veteran Ruthie Henshall is vocally great as Mama Morton but looks like more of a sister and unfortunately seems too much of a ‘walk-on’ role. I saw Ruthie play Roxie in 2009 when I was thirteen and she has definitely been one of my musical theatre inspirations since then, so I was looking forward to seeing her take on her third role in this classic. Therefore it was a shame that she was a little underused and under-developed.
A D Richardson gives a convincing performance as Mary Sunshine and Paul Rider is suitably pathetic but loyal as he gains the audience’s sympathy through his performance as Amos. The ensemble do a fantastic job of keeping the action moving, with my eye continually being drawn to Frances Dee as she moved around the stage with ease and drama.
The lack of changes or focus on quality make this production feel a bit like a money making machine instead of an stunning piece of theatre. It’s clear that Chicago and certain names will draw a crowd which is clearly what’s wanted, so the show has lost some of it’s magic. Although Chicago is still a fun night out that’s sure to please and delight many loyal fans and people who just want a chilled theatrical experience, for me it felt too flat in its current form.