Viv Kennedy reviews Chicago, playing at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 9th July
Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery – perhaps not the ingredients we’d automatically think of when cooking up a musical and yet, while not traditionally feel-good, Chicago is almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face and get your feet tapping.
Pared back to an almost bare stage and ‘almost there’ costumes, Chicago is the slickest and most stylish of musicals, a fast-paced jaunt from one fabulous song and dance routine to the next. It is loosely based on the true stories of court cases reported on in the 1920s by journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins, who also wrote the original play, once described as “the finest piece of stage satire ever written by an American”.
Composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and choreographer Bob Fosse turned that play into a musical back in 1975 and it’s been enjoyed by audiences around the world ever since, the 2002 film version gaining it even more fans. This production features Fosse-inspired choreography by Ann Reinking, re-created by Gary Chryst, every single movement carefully thought out and executed.
Hayley Tamaddon and Sophie Carmen-Jones take on the roles of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly and are both excellent. We are in no doubt that they are guilty as charged but they are young and beautiful and furthermore they have hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (John Partridge) to stand up for them in court so they’ll get away with it. Their celebrity grows as their cases build, but once the verdicts are in the reporters soon charge off to the next big story.
Before winning X Factor, Sam Bailey, who plays ‘Mama’ Morton, was once a real life prison officer but I’m guessing not quite as open to bribes as the character she now takes on. Her rendition of When You’re Good to Mama is one of many highlights and I also really enjoyed Class, her second act duet with Velma.
In a show packed with memorable tunes it’s too hard to pick a favourite but Cell Block Tango, We Both Reached For the Gun, and Hot Honey Rag all make the shortlist as does Mister Cellophane, delivered as a beautifully understated performance by Neil Ditt as Amos Hart, one of the show’s two genuinely innocent characters (the other being the Hungarian, Hunyak, who hangs despite her “not guilty” protestations).
On stage throughout, the band, as a whole, is the other big star of Chicago. Under the musical direction of Ben Atkinson, the musicians play their part with relish, appearing to be having a thoroughly good time, and it’s great to see them showcased during the Entr’acte and following the finale when most of the audience stay in their seats to hear them play one last time.
Chicago plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 9th July with performances at 7.30pm each evening plus matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday. It’s a great show and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend but do bear in mind that the age guidance is 13+ because as well as having a murderous theme it’s also one sexy piece of theatre!
For further information and to book online visit www.atgtickets.com
Image: Hayley Tamaddon and John Partridge as Roxie Hart and Billy Flynn. Photo by Catherine Ashmore.