It has become the ‘done thing’ with this sassy piece of razzle-dazzle to cast flashy names in the big parts and watch the goggle-eyed punters pour in. In the West End version of the show, it’s Jerry Springer who’s currently pulling the crowds.
Mr Springer aside – on whom I can’t comment, since I haven’t seen his performance – there is more than a whiff of cynicism about this approach, since it appears to be concerned less with the quality of the production than with the bucks that can be garnered from celebrity casting.
Well, any hint of below par performances can be confidently dumped at the door with the latest touring incarnation, which continues the extraordinary success of the Chicago roadshow by extending to December with Gary Wilmot in the role of smart lawyer Billy Flynn and one-time EastEnder Emma Barton as the vampish, amoral Roxie Hart.
This pair can do it. Wilmot, whose track record on the stage over the past couple of decades has won him deserved acclaim as one of our top musical stars, is an assured, accomplished pair of hands. You know you’re safe with his rock-solid confidence, and that wonderful voice has just the right amount of edge for the crafty but charming Billy.
Barton – she was Honey Mitchell, in case you’re wondering – also has a powerful presence, and her singing and dancing are more than technically strong enough to cope with the demands of the role of a cheating wife who weasels her way out of a murder rap after she guns down her lover in 1930s Chicago.
There’s a third leading player, too, in the shape of Roxie’s nemesis Velma Kelly, who vies with her for the fame and publicity that murderous notoriety can bring. Twinnie-Lee Moore brings a sultry energy to the part that works well alongside Barton’s wide-eyed Roxie, and the pair are a force to be reckoned with when it’s just the two of them and a spotlight.
Kander and Ebb’s musical, coupled with some classic Bob Fosse staging, is a sweltering, seething mass of sexiness, from Flynn’s brash "Razzle Dazzle" to the showstopping "Cell Block Tango", and it’s all performed with style and pizzazz by a large, talented company.
With the addition of a ten piece live band right there on stage, heaving the fabulous music relentlessly from one brassy number to the next, the pace never flags. It’s a hot ticket for a cool show.
- Michael Davies