The UK touring company of Broadway and West End sensation Chicago, directed by Ian Waller, has finally made its way to our shores, coming straight in after a show in Birmingham. And while the wait was long, it was worth it.
Having been adapted into an Academy Award winning film and receiving critical acclaim onstage, Chicago is one of those musicals that’s hard to go wrong with. Following the story of wannabe singer and Vaudeville star Roxy (Lindsey Tierney) who finds fame when she murders her husband and embarks on a media frenzy, it remains one of the most celebrated musicals to this day. The show started off with All That Jazz, an opening that got everyone hyped up, setting the jazz inspired tone for the rest of the score and blur the boundaries between diegetic performance and actual performance.
The Cell Block Tango remains one of the strongest songs in the mix, with Roxy and her fellow cellmates retelling their personal stories of landing behind bars in sultry, sexy, murderous fashion. Harking back to the Hollywood femme fatales of film noir, it was easy to get seduced by their feminine wiles and become convinced that they were completely justified in their crimes, and marked the point where the musical’s moral landscape became abundantly clear – what’s right isn’t what’s lawful, but what makes the most money and spins the most headlines. The Cell Block Tango also showed off Genevieve Nicole as Velma, who literally stretched her flexibility to the limits, going from high kicks to cartwheels to full splits, provoking awe and wows from the crowd.
Smooth talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Matthew Goodgame) was introduced in one of the biggest Broadway type numbers of the night in All I Care About, featuring flamboyant flappers clad in feather boas and showering him in kisses and cash, disguising his lack of morals with the razzle dazzle of entertainment. Even with this many big numbers and high energy, it remained Velma who stole the show by the end of the first act with My Own Best Friend, leaving the audience hungry for more after the intermission.
Act 2 came back with a roaring start by showing off the live band, and it was nice to see the people who made all this possible, including even the conductor in a delightful sequence. Act 2 also featured a much stronger political stance, reflecting the current state of affairs in the US, with Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ and obsession with making waves in the media becoming a detriment to the country.
Chicago ended with Hot Honey Rag, a duet by Roxy and Velma to showcase their ‘new act’. It’s one of the better endings in musical theatre that highlights the importance of female friendship in the face of the patriarchy that even today, is sometimes hard to find in popular entertainment, instead often pitting two women against each other over a man and spectacularly failing the Bechdel test. By having the two stars come together and doing something they believed in, it ended Chicago on a note of hope amidst the dark morals that threatened to permeate each and every character, and when the final notes of All That Jazz played, the crowd stood up for a standing ovation, because it was just that good.
It’s honestly no wonder that Chicago continues to sell out in most of its runs, remaining one of the most provocative, risque and daring musicals of all time. On this gala night, the glitz and glamour was all over the theatre, and audience members were dressed to the nines, ready to razzle dazzle through the night. But it was still the cast that shone brightest, and after you catch Chicago, you’ll be swinging your hips and snapping your fingers in time all the way home, humming All That Jazz to yourself with the image of Roxy and Velma seared in your mind for many nights to come.