Chicago takes the audience back to the 1920s, following the stories of two murderesses and their attempts to exploit the fame that results from their arrests. Fame, however, is fleeting. This production was vibrant, sexy and captured everybody’s hearts.
When I first arrived at the Keble O’Reilly, the theatre was buzzing for the sold-out show. On stage, the set appeared to feature two large newspaper clippings, eerily lit in red (these pieces were later used effectively to project silhouettes of characters, which I thoroughly enjoyed). For a musical with such famous numbers, I waited with anticipation for it to begin, praying that it lived up to my expectations. All I can say is that the spectacular cast definitely did not disappoint.
The show opens with a powerful number by Velma Kelly (Grace Albery), singing the sensual and well-known “All That Jazz”. I loved watching the development of Velma’s character as the story progressed, from arrogance to jealousy and finally desperation. Albery stepped up to the plate and delivered a confident all-singing, all-dancing performance. She captured the depth of the character and showed that she truly is a triple threat. Roxie Hart, too, was brilliantly cast and Jess Bradley delivered a compelling performance as the opportunistic murderess. Her vocal performance was extraordinary and her portrayal of the charming character was completely convincing. Her self-titled song “Roxie” was perhaps my favourite of the show; she was an instant standout performance. As the two leading ladies battled in their dramatic feud, their duets were strong and they interacted well with each other on stage. Hot-shot lawyer Billy Flynn (Joe Winter) commanded the stage in his first vibrant number, surrounded by the female ensemble with gorgeous red feathers. I loved his scenes with Roxie; the pair had a natural humour that worked really well, especially in their delivery of the song “We Both Reached for the Gun”. In all, the three lead characters all gave strong performances.
It’s also definitely worth mentioning the stunningly powerful voices of Mama Morton (Imogen Edwards-Lawrence) and Mary Sunshine (Priya Radhakrishnan). Both actors engaged the audience in their performances and demonstrated admirable vocal technique. A standout performance also came from Patrick Cole as Amos, whose tragic song gripped the audience’s hearts. There were audible sounds of sympathy from the audience as his beautiful voice sang about his woes. He had great enunciation and impressive control over his voice. I particularly enjoyed his pathetic interaction with the moving spotlight, a comedic moment directed and executed brilliantly.
Together, the cast clearly worked together and complemented each other well. The Merry Murderesses each held their own in the much-anticipated rendition of “Cell Block Tango”, with a special mention to Varuna Mitra as Annie who held my attention with her captivating facial expressions. The male Ensemble were equally vibrant and energetic in their delivery. Credit should be given to Max Penrose for his impressive choreography and performance in the show. The dances appeared carefully designed to show off the cast’s talent, whilst staying true to the show’s Fosse roots. Fosse’s style unfortunately makes it obvious when any mistakes occurred (a wrong arm here and there), but this can definitely be attributed to opening night nerves and I still loved all the numbers.
The red lingerie worn by the female cast communicated the seductive nature of the characters effectively. However, it was disappointing to see red sleeves and necklines show so obviously when the actors threw strappy grey dresses over their outfits to imply a change of character. Whilst I appreciate that simple dresses were perhaps necessary to facilitate quick costume changes, dresses with more coverage could have been used to accommodate the varied red outfits worn underneath. That said, the costume design otherwise stayed true to the Jazz era and I liked the colour scheme that was carried throughout.
Due to the layout of the intimate theatre, the live band was located to the right of the audience, which was both a blessing and a curse: they were in glorious view so their talents could be appreciated, however the sheer volume of the music combined with the fickle microphones that night made it difficult to hear the cast at times. It was a shame when lines were lost due to technical error, especially when it affected the introduction of a new character. This wasn’t helped by a few lighting mishaps, where the lighting hadn’t reacted quickly enough to changes in characters speaking. Despite this, I loved the lighting design in general and thought there were instances that it was used incredibly effectively (such as during “Cell Block Tango”).
All in all, I loved the show. It was well-designed and well-executed, so huge congratulations to producer Ana Pagu and director Emma Hawkins for pulling it off. The cast was clearly enormously talented and this show is a must-see.