Chicago the Musical at Phoenix Theatre
Chicago feels like a musical that is has always been around. It originally opened in 1976 on the West End, it was then revived in 1997 at the Adelphi Theatre, Cambridge Theatre and the Garrick until 2012. It then toured for 5 years up until last year. I was lucky enough to see both the previous West End production and the touring production. I was therefore keen to see what this latest West End production had to offer.
Chicago tells of the merry murderesses of Cook county jail. Nightclub singer Velma Kelly has murdered her husband and Roxie Hart shoots her lover as he tried to leave her. They both end up on trial for murder. Determined to capitalise on their new found fame they hire Billy Flynn as their defence lawyer and Roxie’s trial turns into a media circus.
The show is staged very traditionally with the set up being nearly identical to both the west end version and the tour. As before the band take centre stage on a large, raked riser and the cast perform in front and amongst the band.
The dance is front and centre of Chicago with Fosse’s spirit very much living on through this production. The moves are slick and sexy with the attention to detail needed to achieve the desired look, incredibly high. The dancers in this show all perform the choreography with exceptional skill, switching between a tight troupe and moments when they all have their individual opportunity to shine. The choreography however is remarkably similar to the previous choreography and as a result there is very little new or exciting at the core of this production. Despite this it is the moments where the entire ensemble are on stage dancing that are the highlights of this show for me as you can’t help but admire their sheer talent.
Cuba Gooding. Jr as Billy Flynn is the big name of Chicago and he gets an applause before he even opens his mouth. Whilst he does have a certain charm and charisma that is essential for this role his voice just isn’t big enough or smooth enough for Flynn. His 2 big numbers, ‘All I Care About’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle,’ two numbers with huge potential therefore fall flat.
Playing the parts of Velma and Roxie are Josefina Gabrielle and Sarah Soetaert. Both women have performed in Chicago before (both as Roxie). Gabriella plays Velma with a sultry ease and Soetaert ensures Roxie is (purposely) irritating as well as naïve. Mama Morton is played by Ruthie Henshall who also returns to Chicago having played both Velma and Roxie before. Her voice is perfectly suited to ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ however I would have liked her to be a bit more imposing to distinguish her more from her charges.
There were numerous members of the cast that had been in the show before, either reprising their role (the aforementioned Soetaert, A.D. Richardson as Mary Sunshine and some of the ensemble) or taking a new challenge in a slightly different role, yet still well versed in the Chicago juggernaut but with the staging, costumes, choreography and in fact the cast being very similar to previous productions I left feeling like I had seen it numerous times before. It was a shame that more creative licence wasn’t taken with this production to move away from previous iterations it give it a fresh take suitable for a new generation of audiences.
To find out more about this production visit Chicago’s website.