“No-one walks out on Roxie Hart!” Hell, we wouldn’t dare! Yes, that sexy, provocative tale of murder, adultery and celebrity, Chicago, is back and it’s as steamy as ever.
Chicago razzle dazzled last night at the opening of its UK tour at the New Theatre, Oxford. This iconic show, more than 40 years old now, never fails to thrill with Kander and Ebb’s legendary songs and Bob Fosse’s unforgettable choreography.
If anything you come away from Chicago greedily wanting more. More solo performances from its stars Hayley Tamaddon, Sam Bailey, John Partridge and Sophie Carmen-Jones, more dance routines from the hottest troupe of scantily-clad dancers outside of burlesque, more of the poignant crowd-pleaser Mr Cellophane (Neil Ditt’s one big centre stage moment in the show) and more musical interludes from the sensational ten-piece, on-stage band, led by Ben Atkinson.
It is easy to forget that Chicago is based on a true story. Journalist Maurine Watkins wrote it as a satirical play in the 1920s after covering a string of high profile court cases featuring vamps who killed and escaped justice by fluttering their eyelashes at gullible male juries.
Some of the bite has been lost over the years since it fell into the hands of Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse who saw its potential as a big time musical. But its original theme is never more apposite in today’s celebrity culture where anyone with a story can be “the next big thing” and find five minutes of fame on reality TV.
Back in the day the dames making front page headlines filled Cook County Jail, in gangster run Chicago, after shooting, knifing, poisoning and generally doing away with their errant husbands and lovers.
And there to try and persuade the all-male juries to let them go was the silver-tongued voice of the courtroom, Billy Flynn (based on real-life lawyer WW O’Brien).
Chicago the Musical is dressed in Bob Fosse’s typical trademark black – literally – the set, the band and the cast. It’s alluring, moody and atmospheric.
The female dancers, with their ridiculously long legs, appear in their undies and net bodysuits while the men are squeezed into impossibly tight, crotch-hugging, butt-crunching trousers. Phew!
And at the core of the story are two death-row cons, Velma Kelly, who took a shotgun to her sister and adulterous husband, and the diminutive Tamaddon as Roxie Hart, who dispatched her boyfriend. Both beg hotshot lawyer, Flynn, to take their cases, with prison matron, Mama Morton (a woefully underused Sam Bailey), lining up future careers in showbiz if the girls’ appeals are successful.
The oily Flynn runs a three-ring circus, tutoring the women on what to say at press conferences, how to dress and what to lies to spin in the witness box. For $5,000 a time, he’ll get you your freedom.
Hayley Tamaddon has come a long way from Emmerdale and the cobbled streets of Corrie to shine in the central role as Hart. She’s so tiny that her conversations with John Partidge’s moustacheod Flynn are conducted to his chest but she has a big voice and a mega-watt personality that lights up the stage (she also gets the best lines with lots of cute quips).
There are some big production numbers, now choreographed by Ann Reinking, and one of the best is all I Care About which has Billy Flynn surrounded by the girls performing a vintage Busby Berkeley fan routine. All That Jazz, Razzzle Dazzle Em, Sam Bailey’s big number When You’re Good To Mama, Hot Honey Rag…the list goes on. There isn’t a dud tune in the entire musical.
Partridge, now a veteran of the West End, is a commanding leading man and a knockout singer. In We Both Reached For the Gun he holds a note for an absurdly long time until, thankfully, receiving applause (I think he would have passed out if someone hadn’t started to clap).
Chicago has a huge cast that’s packed with talent, from AD Richardson’s outstanding operatic cameo as journo Mary Sunshine, to Dann Kharsa’s inventiveness in playing an entire jury (not to mention a doctor and a bailiff).
The glossy and unbelievably seductive Chicago plays at New Theatre, Oxford, until Saturday before embarking on an extensive national tour.
2016 Tour Dates
New Wimbledon Theatre February 22-27
Orchard Theatre February 29-March 5
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, March 7-12
Milton Keynes Theatre, March 14-19
Opera House, Manchester March 21-April 2
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, April 4-9
Congress Theatre, Eastbourne April 11-16
Princess Theatre, Torquay, April 25-30
Hall for Cornwall, Truro, May 2-7
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, May 11-21
Royal & Derngate, Northampton, May 23-28
The Hawth, Crawley, May 30-June 4
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, June 6-11
Edinburgh Playhouse, June 13-18
The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, June 20-25
Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, June 27-July 2
Bristol Hippodrome, July 4-9,
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, July 11-16
Theatre Royal Plymouth, July 18-23
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, July 25-30
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, August 1-13
Theatre Royal, Nottingham, August 15-20
Grand Opera House, Belfast, September 5-11
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, September 26-October 1
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, October 24-29.
Chicago The Musical puts the razzle dazzle into murder & adultery. Back for a sensational new national tour, starring John Partridge, Hayley Tamaddon & Sam Bailey.