REVIEW: Chicago

There’s plenty of Razzle Dazzle at Milton Keynes Theatre this week as the award-winning hit musical Chicago continues its UK tour.

By Alan Wooding
Tuesday, 11th September 2012, 5:12 pm

The show is based around a real-life event which happened back in the roaring twenties when a nightclub singer shot her lover after he tried to leave her.

Always seeking fame and fortune, Roxie Hart (played by former Hollyoaks and The Bill actress, Ali Bastian) is arrested for the crime but she finds herself at constant loggerheads with fellow inmate (and murderess) Velma Kelly (Tupele Dorgu of Coronation Street fame).

Both are looked after by silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (Stefan Booth) who charges a $5,000 fee as they try and escape what in those days was a certain death penalty.

With a ten-piece orchestra taking centre stage, the show is set in Chicago during the infamous prohibition-era and it opens with Velma leading the company with the rousing ‘All That Jazz’.

Roxie, who knows her dastardly deed will give her top media attention, sings ‘Funny Honey’ before the slick and comical ‘Cell Block Tango’ brings a great reaction from the audience.

Enter Bernie Nolan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. The former Nolan sisters lead singer looks a real madam in her suit but its the smooth, sleezy lawyer who really steals the show as he works his way through the justice system while even inventing a pregnancy for Roxie to get one up on Velma.

With a wonderful 1920s-style (a bit Fred Astaire) voice, his ‘All I Care About’ number is both slick and superbly sung as was reporter Mary Sunshine’s ‘A Little Bit of Good’.

Beautifully played by crossdresser Alex Weatherall – the reporter, not Alex! – his ringing falsetto voice brings a huge round of applause before Roxie and Flynn hatch a story that it wasn’t murder but was self-defence.

There’s plenty of animosity between the two murderesses as they try to outdo each other while they each learn to use the media.

Meanwhile it’s the dancing that lifts the shows to an even higher level. With Bastian having taken part in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (she reached the semi-finals) and Dorgu’s leggy flexibility, the pair really do compliment one another ... and their voices aren’t bad either!

There is a great spot in the second act when cheating Roxie’s down-trodden husband Amos Hart (Jamie Baughan) sings ‘Mister Celophane’.

At first he believes he must be the father of his wife’s non-existent baby but he soon learns differently. He’s a sad character which the audience really warms to, especially when he asks the orchestra to play his ‘exit’ music!

Booth (who played Tanya’s ex-husband in EastEnders) continues to work the jury, even though there is just one member, and he’s a groper!– as expected both Roxie and Velma are found not guilty.

With the help of ‘Mama’, they then join forces to form a glitzy Vaudeville double act in ‘Hot Honey Rag’ an original slickly choreographed number which remains true to the legendary Bob Fosse whose Broadway successes are still held in high esteem.

With the entire cast on stage throughout (they sit on the sidelines), the curtain comes down with the orchestra – in most shows they would be tucked away in the pit – taking the plaudits as they go through another rendition of All That Jazz.

Under the musical direction of Adrian Kirk, the orchestra is an integral part of the performance with Kirk constantly interacting with the cast and that alone adds value to the whole production. And not forgetting the dancers (and acrobats) who brilliantly complement the main characters.

Based on a play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Chicago the Musical was created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and the aforementioned Fosse and while Chicago has won a whole host of theatrical awards – six Tonys, two Oliviers a Grammy and two Baftas, the film version picked up no fewer than six Academy Awards – a double-murderess, a slick smooth-talking lawyer and a cell block makes a great night so it would probably be criminal to miss it.

Chicago runs at Milton Keynes until Saturday but to check availability call the box office on 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee) or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee).