Chicago

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Cambridge Theatre

(2007)

Review by Philip Fisher

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At the end of the year, Chicago will celebrate a decade in London and it is still going strong. This owes much to the current team of leading players who offer varied but highly complementary skills to guarantee an enjoyable and very lively evening.

This kind of show relies on a combination of big names, ideally but not always essentially with some kind of talent, teamed with good performers who can carry their colleagues when required.

The grisly story will be familiar to many readers. If the writers are to be believed, 1920s Chicago was a lawless town in which every attractive woman is both an adulteress and a murderer.

The prisons and courtrooms are also unusual in that the compulsory dress code is sex shop chic. This gives the evening a somewhat lurid adult frisson, even though the show attracts family audiences.

The cast of Chicago at the moment is led by a tremendous trio, all of whom have much to offer in their own right.

Multi-platinum selling Australian pop diva Tina Arena is the draw card in role of Roxie Hart. She proves that she is far more than just a big name on the make. Not only does she have an attractive and seductive voice, heard at its best in her theme tune, but she can act and dance too, which is a real bonus.

The antithesis of the tiny Tina Arena is Amazonian Annette McLaughlan playing Velma Kelly. This is an unapologetic good-time girl and man killer who gets angry after she loses her front-page headlines to the new girl on the block. Miss McLaughlan has great stage presence and wit. She also sings with tremendous gritty power and can do things with her incredibly long legs that draw sharp intakes of breath from the audience.

The leading triumvirate is completed by another good comic actor, Michael Simkins returning to the show in the part of Billy Flynn that he first played at the Adelphi six years ago. He looks as if he has never been out of the part, making the corrupt defence lawyer charmingly believable and milking every comic line for all that it is worth.

Simkins who is fast becoming as well known for his comic writing - he has just published a book and has a column in the biggest West End programmes - has taken over from Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley. He must surely bring a great deal more colour and life to the part, though something of a crooner rather than an out and out vocal star.

The comedy is helped along a by Matthew Lloyd Davies as Roxie's downtrodden husband Amos Hart together with two mature 'ladies'. Sue Kelvin playing cheery 'Mama' Morton has a great voice, as does the remarkably versatile T Solomon playing Mary Sunshine. This singing chameleon varies between soprano and somewhere close to a counter tenor before a not wholly surprising revelation at the end.

This crew receives tremendous support from the whole ensemble, who have a whale of a time dancing away to Bob Fosse's fantastic routines. They are though somewhat cramped by the energetic big band who take up a great deal of the stage space in a gold picture frame within a frame.

With unforgettable songs like All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle and regular injections of new stars this good-time show featuring a large team of good-time boys and girls will continue to draw in West End audiences who will all go home humming and happy.