Tuesday 10th May 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.
Chicago features some of the most iconic sights and sounds of musical theatre and it’s always a pleasure to behold, whether live or in its immortalised movie form. With Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse (based Maurine Dallas Watkins’ play) and the great Bob Fosse’s choreography and direction still in play, this production delivers on all key fronts: song, dance and laughs. And that famous, fabulously distinctive music by John Kander, accompanied by playful and witty lyrics from Fred Ebb, remains its crowning glory.
For those unfamiliar, the show follows fame-hungry Roxie Hart as she’s caught up in the criminal justice system in 1920s Chicago. From bored housewife to death row inmate of the Cook County Jail, she’s in need of some creative legal counsel. Such counsel is available in the land of showbiz, but there’s competition for the spotlight in the papers and in court, as other charismatic female convicts like Velma Kelly are equally keen to escape the noose…
Much like the publicity mill it depicts, there’s no stopping Chicago when the wheels are set in motion. The genius of Bob Fosse is re-created here by the talented Stacey Haynes (direction) and Gary Chryst (choreography) alongside original choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse” from Ann Reinking. The plot moves along speedily and is more reliant on musical numbers than dialogue to tell the tale, meaning the narrative is essentially delivered as one great hit parade: “All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “I Can’t Do It Alone” – let’s face it, there isn’t a single dud in Chicago’s musical score, so the episodic style lands well.
As Roxie Hart, Faye Brookes is a quadruple threat, with the voice, the moves and the comic timing necessary to own this role but she also offers a sparkling array of wink-wink-nudge-nudge facial expressions which frankly deserve their own recognition. Brookes is hilarious in her one liners just as she is with her physicality – and she makes each song her own, with subtle but notable departures from previous renditions we might have heard.
As Velma Kelly, Djalenga Scott has the sultry tones needed to deliver the most cutting of one liners and a rich voice which wraps itself around the jazzy hits of this piece with ease. The rivalry between Roxie and Velma is well-played and both Scott and Brookes have that vital charm which makes us root for them. Mama Morton is more business than show business thanks to Sheila Ferguson’s comically stern portrayal while Jamie Baughan wins hearts like it’s nobody’s business as poor “dummy” and Mr Cellophane Amos Hart. And the famous Billy Flynn? Russell Watson’s take on Flynn hovers around the Godfather side of American male archetypes, drawling his vowels and swaggering about like a cock among hens – and he certainly has the lung power to match Flynn’s self-assurance.
But while Roxie is certainly the star attraction, Chicago is absolutely an ensemble vehicle – there’s no razzle dazzle or classic Chicago visuals without the whole ensemble offering their lithe limbs in perfect unison. This ensemble cast moves as one or in canon like they’ve trained their whole lives to shine in this show, and they carry the legacy of this mega-hit with mega-watt smiles and plenty of sensuality and fiery energy.
And when it comes to visuals, this show continues its display of Chicago’s underbelly with smoky scenic design from John Lee Beatty, who centres the superb orchestra and has all action played out in the foreground – the approach isn’t about establishing concrete conventional settings, instead using statement props to conjure fleeting scenes, keeping focus exactly where it should be: on those impressive musical numbers. Ken Billington’s lighting knows the score too, frequently opting for bold spotlit scenes and sharp shifts to fleeting floods of colour. William Ivey Long’s costume designs in turn fill the stage with sexy femme fatales and mysterious men, offering up teasingly scarce coverage and playful transparency but also functioning to highlight the intensity of movement and the skill behind the choreography, particularly for those full ensemble numbers.
Chicago the Musical is everything it promises to be: it’s sexy, it’s playful and it’s very funny. This show has flair to spare and with the superb Faye Brookes front and centre as Roxie, this production is very much worth seeing!
Chicago plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until May 14th 2022 and you can find your tickets here. It then tours until July 2022 and you can find more information about dates, venues and tickets here.