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
The Box of Delights
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 7th December 2017
“I sat in a sea of bewitched adults and wide-eyed children”
If anything was going to make me feel festive, Wilton’s Music Hall was the perfect place to start. Having passed through the characterful entrance into the vaulted ceilings and the bare charm of the auditorium, I felt I was stepping into a bygone Christmas card: a twinkling fir tree, the church-like surrounding balcony, and the choral music evoking a Carol concert.
Over 80 years ago Poet John Masefield wrote this enchanting story. It has the feel of folklore and fairy tale yet holds many modern elements: Time travel for the Doctor Who lovers. Flying vehicles for the Harry Potter fans. Talking animals for the C.S. Lewis classicists. Good magicians … bad sorcerers … somewhat Lord of the Rings …? All packaged up in a boy’s struggle to find the courage and skill to ensure that evil does not overpower good.
Kay Harper (played by Alistair Toovey) is our young hero guarding the mysterious box for an elusive Punch & Judy man who is desperate to keep it out of the wicked hands of sorcerer Abner Brown (both parts played wonderfully by Matthew Kelly) who desperately wants the magical box and its amazing secrets for himself. The uneven battle is on. Kay with his playmates Mariah & Peter (enthusiastically played by Safiyya Ingar and Samuel Simmonds) and Abner with his witch of a wife (played with a sinister calmness by Josefina Gabrielle) and vicious hangers on (including a duplicitous performance by Tom Kanji – who is also the ineffective police officer of the piece!)
This adaptation for stage by Piers Torday is beautifully done, with a scattering of jokes and jibes that only the adults get. Puppets. Music. Video. Parachute quantities of fabric. Movement and poise. With light and images keeping your eye focused to avoid the slight of hand.
I liked the way the 1930s costumes blended into the theatre making me feel we had ourselves, travelled back in time. Designer Tom Piper’s draped set is amazingly versatile and blends into the ‘shabby chic’ restoration surrounding the stage making the seated patrons feel they are part of the stage. The use of projected imaging added a cinematic feel and afforded blizzards, magnificent creatures, raging infernos and further amazing effects from video designer Nina Dunn.
The cast all give brilliant performances, balancing a timeless, classic children’s story on the good side of old fashioned, and the comedy moments the right side of farce.
I sat in a sea of bewitched adults and wide-eyed children who gasped, giggled and clung to their adults in anticipation. Their silence throughout the performance said it all – if you can hold their attention so solidly you are doing something very right indeed. With festive music (Ed Lewis) interwoven and humorous laugh out loud moments from both the children and the villainous pursuers, everyone watched with smiles on their faces.
Steering away from vaudeville style pantomime, this seasonal production is the perfect alternative for children and adults of all ages and not to be missed. This show is exactly what it says it is: A Box of Delights, an early Christmas gift, festooned in magic and mystery which sparkles when opened. Unwrap it now!
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Alastair Muir
The Box of Delights
is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 6th January