Chicago was originally created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and the choreography legend that was Bob Fosse. It tells the story of a 1920’s nightclub singer, Roxie Hart, who is sent to jail for murdering her lover. While serving her sentence she meets Velma Kelly, a vaudeville performer and double murderess, Matron Morton, “the keeper of the keys” and Billy Flynn, the hot-shot lawyer who treats criminal trials as circus extravaganzas.
I should probably say now that I was VERY pleasantly surprised with the quality of this production. It was incredibly fast paced, with one musical number moving straight into the next, with no dull moments in sight. The whole cast, from principals to ensemble, performed with precision and energy.
The show opens in a Chicago nightclub with the opening number “All That Jazz” here performed by Sophie Carmen-Jones (Jersey Boys, Wicked) as Velma Kelly. Carmen-Jones is a consummate performer. Her Velma was haughty and tough-as-nails, while still displaying a vulnerability as her star begins to fade.
The role of Roxie Hart was played by Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Dancing on Ice). Tamaddon was the biggest surprise for me over the course of the evening. She was absolutely superb in the role which holds the entire show together. Her voice was beautiful, her dancing was fantastic and her characterisation of Roxie as a spoilt starlet who disregards everyone around her was incredibly realistic. I particularly loved her in the signature number “Roxie” where she lit up the stage.
John Partridge stole the show as Billy Flynn, a character it seems he was born to play. He dominated the stage with his smarmy charm and charisma. He had the most incredible voice, especially in THAT long note at the end of “All I Care About is Love” The “Razzle Dazzle” number, including Roxie’s trial, was by far my favourite section in the show. It was great to see him show off his dance moves as well as some serious acting skills.
Sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to see how Jessie Wallace fared in the role of “Mamma” Morton as she was replaced by her understudy, Ellie Marshall for this performance. I don’t feel like I missed out. Marshall was sublime and performed the role with effortless ease. During the number “When you’re good to Mama”, her movements were so controlled and subtle that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She also had a voice to rival many theatre greats, with her duet of “Class” with Carmen-Jones being one of my favourite in the whole show.
The role of Amos is a very quiet one. Neil Ditt (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole) handled it perfectly, with an unassuming charm while still managing to hit all the comedy beats. I genuinely felt so sorry for him in his final scene (no spoilers) and his song “Mr Cellophane” was flawless.
Having seen the show a couple of times, one of my highlights is definitely the band. The 10-piece orchestra are on stage throughout the performance. They play instruments (obviously!), they dance, they provide comedy relief. The conductor (sorry – couldn’t find the name online) in particular is fabulous and it must take a very special kind of musician to lead this show. Sedately tapping a baton will not suffice. He is a character in his own right and got one of the biggest cheers at the end of the performance.
Sure, I could say some of the sound levels seemed a bit unbalanced. Some dialogue and singing was occasionally drowned out by the band; but this was a first night in a new theatre and the levels can be adjusted for the rest of the run.
Definitely worth catching.