The strength of this production of Chicago lies in the piece itself. The story, music and treatments will stand the test of time for some years to come. This company are yet to fully inhabit the greatness of the show, but the potential is evident; as it is, it is a very enjoyable evening at the theatre, funny and sexy.
‘You’re a phony celebrity kid. Couple of weeks and no-one will even know you’re alive.’
These are seminal words from this musical theatre classic. This theme brings the real life story of murderess Roxie Hart out of the pages of history and into the present. Celebrity in 2016 is more often based on spurious foundations than ever before. Chicago is currently playing at the New Victoria Theatre as part of its UK tour.
With lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kandor and book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Chicago ranks alongside Cabaret as one of the best from not only the Kandor and Ebb team but other musicals of its time. It can be argued that the music and the original choreography of Bob Fosse are the key elements to the show’s continued success. Chicago is currently playing at the New Victoria Theatre as part of its UK tour.
Ann Reinking is listed as this production’s choreographer and she has used the signature moves of Fosse to dominate the palette. Would Chicago be the same calibre of show without Fosse? The company are all loose-limbed masters of the style and, after a start that was a little under-energised, they made the work their own.
The band is outstanding. Leon Charles leads not only the musicians but also the pace of the entire show from his conductor’s podium, often joining the action with great charm and a sharp sense of comedy. The music pops in the tight ensemble playing and the sense of fun is ever present. It seems harsh to signal out a single member of such a tight unit, but special mention goes to Annette Brown on first trumpet. Not merely because she is the only woman in the band but she handles her solos with style and every note is right on the button.
In the company, the stand out performance comes from Hayley Tomaddon as Roxie. Tomaddon handles the feisty, manipulative character with energy and finesse. Her voice is certainly equal to the demands of this huge role and particularly shines in the number Roxie.
Opposite her, in the role of Velma, is Sophie Carmen-Jones whose strength in this is in the quality of her dance. Whilst Carmen-Jones has a lovely lyrical singing style, heard to its best advantage in the duet, Class, there is strain in the voice in the bigger singing required for other numbers.
Playing the master legal eagle Billy Flynn is star of stage and screen, John Partridge. That star quality is evident from his first moments on stage. Of course this is supported by the longest musical introduction in the world. Partridge portrays Flynn as brash and assertive and disconnected from his clients and the truth of their situations. What matters to Flynn is that he wins the case and takes the money. Justice is made to bend to his version of reality. It’s a master class in public relations and disturbingly believable.
Partridge is satisfyingly winning as the urbane and sexy Flynn. His singing is best presented in Razzle Dazzle and the ventriloquist turn of We Both Reached For the Gun rather than in the huge bravura notes that ruthlessly expose the voice.
Matron ‘Mama’ Morton here is reminiscent of the character Karen from the television series Will and Grace. Whilst this is entertaining, the role calls for more core strength and a touch of menace as the lady who rules the prison. Jessie Wallace sings her big number, When You’re Good to Mama, with all the nuances and vocal strength required, and the duet with Velma in the second act, Class, offers a lovely harmonic contrast to the loud, brassy numbers that surround it.
Also in huge contrast to the bold and brassy characters of the show is Amos Hart, the man that people see right through. Neil Ditt plays this role with great commitment and deservingly wins the support of the audience in his hour of greatest trouble. The over the top coloratura performance of A D Richardson, as reporter Mary Sunshine, is for a good cause and well done.
This production was supported with beautiful lighting by Ken Billington. In particular, the lighting state for Roxie was a spectacular visual of split rays of light in haze against an artistic use of colour. Also very effective was the descent of a row of lights in front of the performers playing the press gallery for them to muck around with. They leaned in and out of the light to great effect. Rick Clarke designed sound that worked well to support the action as well as the singers.
These complex musical theatre productions are at their best when they are directed into a co-operative entity and Walter Bobbie as director has achieved the correct level of symbiosis of the many diverse elements. A particularly quirky directorial touch, inherited from Broadway, is the idea of the single actor who represents the entire 12 person jury. He shifts from chair to chair assuming different characters in the process.
At present, there are some sections of the show where the flow of performance is slightly akilter. Overall, this production of Chicago has the potential to be a polished and shining piece of theatre; as it is, it is a very enjoyable evening at the theatre, funny and sexy.