Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Chicago The Musical

John Kander & Fred Ebb
Crossroads Live/Chicago worldwide
The Regent, Ipswich

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Roxy Hart & Velma Kelly in Chicago Credit: Tristram Kenton
Velma & Dancers - Chicago Credit: Tristram Kenton
Chicago Poster Credit: Chicago Worldwide

Now that theatre productions are getting back to some sort of normality, it’s great to see top flight shows venturing out to provinces.

And this is definitely top flight. With some cracking dancers, talented leads and exceptional musicians, this production pulls out the stops to give a really entertaining performance of what has been described as "the sexiest musical on the circuit".

Chicago The Musical is based on an original play by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins, who based it on her own experiences of the city in Prohibition times. 1920s Chicago was a hotbed of gangsters running illegal booze and underground jazz clubs serving up that same booze with hot entertainment.

But it was a dangerous time too, with rival gangs fighting it out for territory and the justice system mainly in the pay of the mafia bosses.

Watkins focused her play on two women she interviewed in prison: Beulah Annan, who had shot dead her lover but claimed she had been attacked and was getting her husband to fund her defence, and Belva Gaertner, a thrice-married cabaret singer accused of shooting dead her married lover. Both were using their feminine wiles to get their trials revoked or at least trying for a not guilty verdict from the gullible all-male juries, aided and abetted by their clever lawyer.

So Beulah became Roxie Hart and Belva became Velma Kelly and the musical follows their journey to their trials with the help of Billy Flynn, their crafty, charismatic defence attorney.

Djalenga Scott is a perfect Velma: deeply sexy with a lovely voice—she excels in her opening number "All That Jazz" and does not disappoint for the rest of the show. Perfectly in time with her backing dancers, together they make the stage steam.

Faye Brookes is equally good as Roxie Hart. Her voice is a little light but she makes up for that with bags of personality and stage presence. Russell Watson makes the most of his vocal talents in the part of Billy Flynn—also very believable as the confident but flawed lawyer.

Jamie Baughan as Roxie’s put-upon husband Amos makes the most of his role and B E Wong as Mary Sunshine is excellent.

Perhaps the only criticism is in the casting of Sheila Ferguson as Mama Morton. She seems a little posh and lightweight for a role that demands the strength needed to keep a prison full of sassy women in line. And maybe a little stiff in her performance too.

But with a great band under the leadership of very bouncy MD Andrew Hilton, who was obviously enjoying himself immensely, and a superb collection of talented as well as eye candy dancers, this is a show that smooches and smoulders—if not quite fizzes.

The set is a nightclub stage with the band on view and graduated steps which serve as entrances and exits as well as differing levels for the action and the dance routines. At times, this seems a little cramped with a lot going on in a small space, but the cast make it work, ably directed by Walter Bobbie.

Especially noteworthy are the ventriloquist scene ("We Both Reached For The Gun"), "The Cell Block Tango" and "All I Care About", but there are some nice moments to savour throughout the whole production.

A classy set of performances resulting in a great evening’s entertainment. Not to be missed.

Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes