The move from the Adelphi to the much smaller Cambridge theatre has not caused Chicago to lose any of its Razzle Dazzle. The musical, which is now in it’s ninth year in the West End, doesn’t seem to have changed at all since I first saw it about three years ago. Which is probably a good thing, showing a consistent level of professionalism (despite the occasional bizarre “celeb” casting choices over the years.)
The current cast, headlined by Bonnie Langford as Roxie, who recently upped her profile by coming third in ITV celebrity staking show Dancing on Ice, had a few weeks to get used to their roles before the move, which has given the show about jazz murderesses a more intimate feel – a plus because the often under-stated direction meant some details were lost by row M in the cavernous Adelphi - and the talented and enthusiastic band certainly sounds louder in the smaller space.
Langford is endearing as Roxie, playing the role with an innocent little-girl-lost air while at the same time keeping enough knowingness – particularly on lines such as “that’s’ showbiz, kid” – and sass to make her credible. Victor McGuire as her husband, Amos, is lovably downtrodden, and he really gets the audience on side.
Amra-Faye Wright is a stunning Velma, oozing class, despite being “a low-brow”. And her statuesque figure dwarfs Langford, adding a nice comedy touch to scenes where they dance together. Brenda Edwards of X Factor fame gives an impressive performance as Mamma Morton; her singing voice is terrific, although she could brush up on her American accent slightly and articulate more clearly for the dialogue.
Italian stallion Luca Barbareschi doesn’t quite cut it as Billy. He has a fairly strong continental accent that gets in the way of some dialogue and feels out of place with the rest of the cast; and despite having played the role previously in Italy, it feels as though he doesn’t quite understand all his lines, which makes the comedy fall flat. However, he does have a pleasant singing voice and certainly makes an effort with the character.
The ensemble are all sexy and energetic, and ensure the pace doesn’t let up throughout the show.
- Caroline Ansdell
Note: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from August 2004 and an earlier West End cast.
I've literally lost count of the number of times I've now seen Chicago, currently in its seventh year at the Adelphi Theatre, but one thing I do know: I simply never tire of watching this sensationally cynical show about sex, murder, celebrity and newspaper headlines.
And lately the show has been making the headlines again itself, thanks to the arrival in the cast of David Hasselhoff as Billy Flynn - an actor whose programme biography modestly states that he is "listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as The Most Watched TV Star in the World, thanks to starring roles in both Knight Rider and Baywatch." He was, we also discover, once named "Most Popular and Best Selling Artist of the Year in Germany," due to a late 80s album from which a song, “Looking for Freedom”, apparently became "an anthem for the German people," and which he sang "atop the Berlin Wall during the German reunification celebration".
With fans cheering his entrance onstage and others at the stage door sporting "We Love the Hoff" tee-shirts, a show about the phoney values of celebrity has clearly become a vehicle for the indulgence of one. But the amazing thing about both the resilience of this extraordinary piece of musical theatre writing and the ironic layers that this show is enveloped in is that, far from disrupting its tale of monstrous ego and vanity, Mr Hasselhoff's appearance becomes a reflective mirror of his character's own principal preoccupations. Only the arrival of OJ Simpson (but in the role of Velma Kelly, who kills her husband and sister) could push the boundaries between art and life more effectively.
But "the Hoff" is no slouch when it comes to taking on the preening role of Billy. Taller than anyone else onstage, he is the personification of the cheese-meets-sleaze qualities to give us the ol' razzle-dazzle required. He's as simultaneously repulsive as the show itself continues to be wonderfully seductive.
And though I have seen both better Roxie’s and Velma’s than Rebecca Thornhill and Anita Louise Combe respectively, I have seldom seen two who are so perfectly matched as these two, physically as well as emotionally. They complement each other to stunningly powerful effect, reasserting this show's irresistibly glittering take on America and justice and what they stand for.
- Mark Shenton
Note: The cast has changed since the writing of this review. For current cast details, please see the Chicago listing entry. If you have seen the current cast and would like to share your views please go to the user reviews section.
After Martine McCutcheon's much publicised but now disastrous run in My Fair Lady - where she garnered good reviews but has so far missed more performances than she has actually given - it's a relief to report that Denise van Outen is showing up nightly (and twice on matinee days) for Chicago.
It's even better to find that she's no mere casting gimmick, but really, really good. She looks the part, gloriously; she acts the part, delightfully; she dances the part, terrifically; and she even sings the part, appealingly. She's the business. And it's obvious she's put in the work to make sure that she is.
The show - a bitterly cynical but hilariously true account of the culture of celebrity - has met its perfect match. Van Outen is Roxie Hart, who murders her lover Fred Casely in a jealous rage when he threatens to leave her, and turns her crime into the stuff of showbusiness. Acquitted thanks to the efforts of her brilliant lawyer, Billy Flynn (the silkily smooth Clarke Peters, back in the show briefly en route to taking over the lead in The Witches of Eastwick), Roxie takes up a vaudeville career with an equally heartless murderess, Velma Kelly (the stunningly leggy Leigh Zimmerman, looking like Rita Hayworth on stalks).
Roxie faces a more dangerous accusation at one point than murder: namely, that she is a phoney celebrity. It's an accusation that might have once stung the actress playing her, but Van Outen - formerly the sex siren of breakfast television - proves that she's much more than that.
And best of all, Chicago is much more than just Van Outen. The show, in fact, remains its own biggest star - not just for containing easily Kander and Ebb's best Broadway score, but also for a razor-sharp production that strips it back to a minimalist sheen of barely covered bodies performing the sexiest choreography in the West End on a smartly functional set, and with the best band in town thumping out the score from their onstage perch. This is a show that razzle-dazzles you, and then some.
There isn't a duff performance anywhere with this cast that totally relish every moment. The American Zimmerman is a major discovery in the role of Velma, but such UK-based stalwarts as Susannah Fellows (as Mama Morton, who runs the jail) and Barry James (as Roxie's much-abused husband) also make their mark. The show is in terrific shape; for those who've not seen it before, now is the time to do so. And if you have seen it, go again.
Note: The following review dates from November 1997 and the production's original West End opening.
Chicago is a big, bad mama of a musical which arrives in London, via Broadway, to show us just how musicals should be done. It tells the story of two showgirls, Roxie Hart (Ruthie Henshall) and Velma Kelly (Ute Lemper), who kill their lovers and set about manipulating the media so as not only to guarantee their freedom but to kickstart their vaudeville careers. Both women are aided by celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Henry Goodman).
It's a decidedly contemporary tale, although Chicago - the musical - was created in the mid-1970s and based on a stage play from the 20s.
What separates this production from its pygmy rivals is the way it clings to the dark heart of its story, rather than getting lost in expensive effects. Director Walter Bobbiehas pared down the peripherals, and turned up the heat where it really matters. The set is little more than a black shell with a gold frame. The costumes are slinky pieces of nothing that expose a generous amount of flesh and mercilessly grip the remaining sinews.
The music is hot and jazzy, but never overpowers the voices so that you get to hear every last delicious lyric. The orchestra are centre-stage and participate in the action.
Ann Reinking's choreography, in the style of the legenday Bob Fosse, is to die for. The marriage of Reinking and Lemper is a particularly inspired one. I've never seen anyone slink onto a stage like Lemper in the opening number. Lemper can sing as well as she dances, and she has a mean comic timing. Henshall, equally effervescent as Roxie, gets a couple of the best numbers to herself and more than does them justice. Her portrayal has shades of a dark-hearted Monroe.
There are so many more delights - from Goodman, Nigel Planer> as Roxie's husband and Meg Johnson as a back-scratching prison matron...I had a smile on my face from the first note to the last.
I defy you to find a more erotic show anywhere in London. The entire cast oozes sex-appeal; so much so that by the end of the evening you'd willingly swap your soul for any one of their telephone numbers.
You might have trouble getting a ticket. There's a six-month wait on Broadway and the UK production looks like repeating the US success. The London Underground is full of striking adverts for the show and the press has been whipping itself up into a frenzy. But for once this hype is well-deserved. Chicago lives up to its pre-publicity, and then some. It's a class act. See it and die happy.
- Justin Somper, November 1997