‘Always enjoyable to see women characters completely take centre stage’: CHICAGO – West End

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Shanine SalmonLeave a Comment

Phoenix Theatre, London

The charming Duncan James brings a new maturity to the role of Billy Flynn which he first played more than a decade ago in Chicago. Here he is joined by X Factor star Alexandra Burke (who brings a shining charisma to her rather too hard-edged interpretation of Roxie), Laura Tyrer (excellent but underused as Velma) and Mazz Murray (striking the perfect balance of warmth and steeliness as Mama Morton). The volubly appreciative audience appeared to be in consensus that Paul Rider stole the show as the delightfully pathetic Amos.

This stripped-back production places the orchestra fully on stage, creating a more intimate and cabaret-style experience, but severely reducing the playing space. As a consequence many of the dance numbers feel constrained, the ‘Cell Block Tango’ taking place entirely on chairs, and one number performed with Burke not moving from a ladder.

I am a bigger fan of dance than of musicals generally, and I found the relative lack of big dance numbers disappointing (my companion, who is a huge fan of musicals and of Chicago especially, found this even more disappointing). There are some excellent moments, and the cast are clearly talented dancers, but the original Fosse choreography in the final ‘Hot Honey Rag’ number does rather put the rest of staging to shame.

I have to admit despite my stage school chorus brat beginnings, I am not a regular audience member at musicals. I had not seen Chicago before either on stage or screen and I was pleasantly surprised by the meat of the story and the depths of the subtext. The show touches on concepts like the easy commodification of the female body, female sexuality, and violence, the ways in which women are dominated yet not necessarily victimised by patriarchal society, and is amazingly prescient in predicting the rise of shock value flash-in-the-pan celebrity culture.

It’s always enjoyable to see a show where the women characters so completely take centre stage. There’s a fascinating essay to be written on the gender politics of Chicago. This is not the place for that essay, but the production must be praised for not pulling punches in exploring these subtexts, and in integrating serious themes with a thoroughly entertaining show.

Chicago is on at the Phoenix Theatre until 5 January https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/chicago/phoenix-theatre/

Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.
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Shanine Salmon on RssShanine Salmon on Twitter
Shanine Salmon
Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.

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