Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
David Ian and Michael Watt in association with Barry and Fran Weissler
Lyceum Theatre Sheffield
It is good to be reminded what a wonderful show Chicago is. With a witty script, delightful lyrics by Fred Ebb, terrific music by John Kander and stunning choreography based on the original by Bob Fosse, it has to be a winner. The current touring production at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre is a delight.
Even though two of the principal roles were performed by understudies, Chloe Ames as Roxie Hart and Ian Oswald as Billy Flynn, the momentum of the production is such that they were completely integrated into the action (including the demanding and complex choreography) and gave faultless performances.
The musical is set in the roaring 20s, era of ‘murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts’. We follow the fortunes of six women on death row, each of whom has committed the gruesome murder of a faithless or irritating lover. The unforgettable "Cell Block Tango" fills in the details. If they can raise $5,000 they will buy the services of the corrupt but clever lawyer Billy Flynn, famous for bending the truth and manipulating a jury. In this, he is aided by gaol Matron Mama Morton (Bernie Nolan) and a scandal-seeking press core.
The set could hardly be simpler: a sequence of rostra arranged in steps to accommodate the band and provide levels with an upstage exit for the actors and a few chairs, put to very good use in the dance and other routines. The black costume convention is appropriate and effective and variety is added from time to time by the use of dramatic props and coloured spot lights.
But this is essentially a joyful, humorous, life-affirming song and dance show. The excellent band (musical director, Adrian Kirk) is on stage throughout so that we can see as well as hear the musicians, and the instrument players can join in the fun. There are excellent singing performances, solo and ensemble, which are enjoyable, not only for their (often raunchy) vocal quality, but for the expressive facial animation which accompanies them. Tupele Dorgu as Velma Kelly is outstanding in this respect. There are moments of plangency in the score. Jamie Baughan as Amos Hart gives a moving and beautifully acted rendition of "Mister Cellophane".
This is a high energy show and the choreography throughout is vigorous, inventive, witty and often athletic, with occasional nods to Busby Berkeley. The ‘puppet’ routine which accompanies Billy and Roxie’s "We Both Reached for the Gun" is a particular delight and was immaculately performed by the two understudies.
The production was enthusiastically received by the Sheffield audience and the perfect antidote to a wet and miserable September day. Chicago is on tour throughout the Autumn.
Reviewer: Velda Harris