One of my all-time favourite musicals, Chicago, is back for a UK tour and I couldn’t be happier. Since closing in London’s West End back in 2012 (after 15 years), I have had to go all the way to Broadway to get my fix of merry murderesses but not anymore.
Chicago tells the true story of Chicago in 1924, a time where jazz and liquor filled the air. A news reporter was sent to cover the trials of a dozen women on death row for murder and her experiences were turned into a play. Once she died, composers Kander and Ebb took to show and turned it into the musical we know and love today featuring songs like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Cell Block Tango’ and ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’. Roxie Hart is put on trial for killing her boyfriend after he tried to walk out on her. She enlists the help of lawyer Billy Flynn to set her free but soon the idea that she could become a celebrity star on the vaudeville circuit, overshadows the fact she is potentially facing the death penalty for her crime.
What amazed me about this new touring production was the amount of new theatre-goers that have been brought in by the celebrity casting. Many of the people sitting around me didn’t know the stage show, or even the film, they had no idea what they were about to watch but they knew they were going to see some stars from TV. By the end of the show, the two girls behind me had loved their theatre experience so much, they were looking up what other shows they could come and see. This is certainly an example of where celebrity-casting is no bad thing and this powerhouse troop of household names are sure to keep this tour going strong.
Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale/Coronation Street) was brilliant as Roxie Hart. Her acting of the character was funny and sweet and she has a lovely tone to her voice. John Partridge was also very good as the sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn. His rendition of Razzle Dazzle was wonderful to watch, drawing on his dancing background to add to the performance. Sam Bailey was the biggest surprise of the night. The prison warden, turned X Factor winner has gone back to her roots, playing Prison Warden Mamma Morton. We all know she can sing but her acting and american accent was far better than I expected and she blew all my expectations out of the water. Sophie Carmen-Jones didn’t have me convinced at the start of the show as Velma Kelly but as the show went on I grew to love her. Neil Ditt was a lovely Amos and his version of Mr Cellophane (usually not one of my favourite songs in the show) was a highlight of the night for me, although he did stumble on his words and loose it towards the end a little. A D Richardson was great as Mary Sunshine, the happy news reporter who sees that little bit of good in everyone. The ensemble and dancers, whilst too many to mention were wonderful and showed the reason why Chicago is such a well loved classic. Not only for the easy-on-the-eye performers but also the brilliant choreography.
Chicago is one of my favourite musicals because it is so simple. There is nowhere for the actors to hide, no elaborate sets or costumes. Chicago doesn’t need to be fancy. The story, music and choreography are all this show needs to be a hit and it has survived through the ages. The direction of the show had some interesting elements added in from previous productions and it was nice to see a lick of paint being added, whilst also staying true to the original Chicago we all know and love. There were a few technical issues on press night but as the show is only in its second week of the tour, these can be forgiven and the audience probably wouldn’t have noticed. They were having a whale of a time and so was I. What’s not to love about Chicago?
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Chicago is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday and then continues its tour around the UK. Check out all tour dates here