It has been over thirty years since Chicago first Razzle Dazzled the West End in 1979, but the current UK tour is a solid reminder as to how much of a well-loved classic this John Kander and Fred Ebb score really is. Having never seen a production of Chicago before, and having given up on the dreadful 2002 movie adaptation fifteen minutes after the opening credits, I was fairly new to the plot and the majority of the songs so went with an open mind. My first surprise was the stripped back set with the orchestra placed centre stage and the cast sat at the sides during scenes. The set was minimalistic with few props and staple black costumes of different varieties throughout. Having spoken to others that had seen previous productions, this current tour is definitely stripped back from the original, however this suited the theatre and gave it a fresh appeal.
The story is set in prohibition-era Chicago (1920’s) and is a musical based on a play by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, and is loosely based on the crimes she covered for her paper. Maurine was assigned to cover the 1924 trials of accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune. Annan, the model for the character of Roxie Hart was twenty-three when she was accused of the murder of Harry Kalstedt.
Having first opened on Broadway in 1975, playing approximately 600 performances, the musical has had several UK tours (2001, 2006, 2009, 2011 and the current 2016 tour) and played in countries including Tokyo (1999), Moscow (2002), Vienna (1998) and Singapore (2010). The Broadway revival (1996) holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest running American musical in Broadway history. A West End revival followed in 1997.
The current tour cast consists of played Hayley Tamadden as Roxie Hart, a role in which Hayley totally shines in, with hints of comedy and mischief Hayley oozes charm and sweetness. The tough performer awaiting trial for the double murder of her husband and sister, Velma Kelly, is played by Sophie Carmen-Jones. Sophie oozes self-assurance yet stills displays her vulnerable side behind the bravado. X-Factor winner Sam Bailey is a natural in the role of Mama Morton, the Cook County Jail Matron. An absolute joy to watch! My attention was focussed on A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine however. A character full of warmth, care, soul and compassion. And boy, can Sunshine sing!!
For me the real seller of the show is the choreography. Never in a musical have I witnessed such slick, almost reptile like movements filed with grace. The slightest gesture, from a finger flick to the tilt of a hat was all so smooth and mesmerising to watch. It is rare in a musical for the ensemble to be the highlight of the performance but with the stunning work from choreographer Ann Reinking, I found it very difficult not to be transfixed on the wonderful dance moves.
Although I would not rank Chicago in my top ten favourite musicals, the choreography alone makes it worth seeing at least once and this current production, although I cannot comment on previous tours, is simply stunning! Catch it before it leaves Sheffield!
Reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne
Reviewed: 6th June 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★