Reviewed – 17th April 2018
“a classy production; always sharp and never flat”
Since the original Broadway production of “Chicago” each subsequent revival has stayed true to its initial concept and style, making it a strongly identifiable product. This current West End outing is no exception – you certainly know what you’re going to get. Some detractors argue that this leads to stagnation but, on the contrary, like a well-crafted movie-classic, Kander and Ebb’s defining musical always lends itself to repeat viewing.
With the help of Gary Chryst (re-creation of original choreography), Ann Reinking’s dance moves evoke the spirit of Bob Fosse in this tale of murderous femme fatales in prohibition Chicago. I have to confess that until now I was unaware that the show is based on the real life story of two high profile homicide cases in the 1920s. Originally penned by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins it highlights the fact that, just as the kiss-and-tell tactics of today’s tabloids turn transgressors into celebrities, so the reporters of the Jazz Age could also transform criminals into stars.
The main draw here, though, is undoubtedly Cuba Gooding Jr as the unscrupulously shady defence lawyer Billy Flynn. He certainly has his fans in the audience and he can do no wrong by them. He does grab the role with both hands and lays claim to the stage with charisma and cheeky swagger; delivering his numbers with a husky voice more Raggle Taggle than Razzle Dazzle. One does wonder if he is up to the gruelling demands of a West End schedule, but for now he deserves the applause.
Sarah Soetaert, as Roxie Hart, is sensational. Amazingly she shows us an endearing side to her screwball, sociopath character and we smile at her outrageous stabs at stardom instead of willing her to hang. And when coupled with Josefina Gabrielle’s Velma Kelly, it is we who hang on their every note. However, the show does take a while to warm up. The first act simmers nicely enough and it is only after the interval that it reaches boiling point. It is like another performance, and from the stirring entr’acte onwards the orchestra threatens to steal the show. And that’s the thing. The music is the real star of the production. The score demands that the musicians (with musical director Ian Townsend at the helm – clearly having a ball) occupy the greater part of the stage.
This is a classy production; always sharp and never flat – bubbling with some of the best show tunes from the Kander and Ebb song book, Fosse’s inimitable signature, spiky satire, sex and, of course, all that jazz.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Phoenix Theatre until October 6th
Also starring Josefina Gabrielle