Chicago - the Musical

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Music by John Kander
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring

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It is obvious that murder, greed, violence, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery are nearer and dearer to our British hearts than we would like to admit. This show, dealing with all of the above, has been playing in the West End since 1997 and the touring version is now going around for the third time. It is a splendidly cynical satire on corruption, the power of the press, the greed of manipulative lawyers and the cheapness of life - "In Chicago murder is almost an entertainment" – but most of all it is music and dance with every song very pertinent to the story.

This production had a rather shaky beginning. In the last stages of a very lengthy tour they may be becoming a little tired and timing was not perfect. The audience reaction was muted as they didn’t seem aware of the ironic jokes in the lyrics. However it soon got into its stride and produced the terrific show that it always is, with the audience waking up to the fact that a tale set mostly in prison, with six women facing the death sentence, could have its funny side too.

The excellent fifteen piece orchestra are on stage throughout, very much part of the action, and were not overpoweringly loud (which has often been a complaint at this theatre). This is the only show I know where the audience sits firmly in their seats at the end just enjoying the music instead of filing out – it took the descent of the curtain to get them to move.

The story is mainly about the two “Merry Murderesses” Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, who rely on their lawyer Billy Flynn to persuade a jury of their innocence, and for a large fee he will do this - guilty or not! These two contrast well, emphasising the rivalry and jealousy between them. Dawn Spence’s Velma is smoulderingly sexy (and with a glorious velvet voice and great stage presence), while Haley Flaherty’s Roxie is less confident, more vulnerable, yet given to displays of temper when she blurts out the first thing in her mind. To prevent her giving the wrong impression to the reporters Flynn sits her on his knee like a dummy while he gives them the spiel through her mouth – this scene was a winner. George Asprey is convincing as Flynn, the lawyer only out to make money, yet there is an attractive side too which softens the image – and he can certainly hold a note, musical as well as dollar.

Dale Meeks, late of Emmerdale, is Roxie’s not-very-bright husband Amos, and he achieved the biggest laugh and the most sympathy with his “Mr. Cellophane” tale of not being noticed.

Wardress Mama Morton is Katy Secombe – another great stage presence and melodious voice and, with Spence, the song “Class” regretting the loss of manners nowadays was very beautiful - no matter that they are in prison with Velma on a murder charge.

Played against the backdrop of the raked orchestra, the set becomes whatever is necessary, moving no more than a few chairs. It is the music, the lyrics and most of all the dancing which are the mainstay of the show, with Ann Reinking’s choreography (in the very distinctive style of the late Bob Fosse) uplifting the show to the highest level. I was lucky enough to see the original London cast with Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshell. From that moment I was smitten. I’ve seen it many times since – and hope for many more of “All That Jazz”.

Touring to Wolverhampton, Torquay, Southend and Bournemouth

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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