Though this revival of Kander and Ebb’s 1975 hit Chicago has been slicking its hair since 1996, the piano is just as hot as the night Roxie Hart first signed her name in the detainees’ register.
Thrown into Cook County Jail for the murder of her lover, Roxie Hart, ably played by former Eastender Emma Barton, grasps for fame through the bars of a prison cell. Helping her to carve fame from infamy is corrupt lawyer, Billy Flynn (Jimmy Osmond), a man so confident in himself that he believes he could have saved Jesus from crucifixion (if he could stretch to his $5000 fee, naturally). Complicating the affair is rival for the limelight, Velma Kelly, the former favourite Merry Murderess of the Chicago press.
Forbidden Broadway, the New York revue of all things Broadway, christened the revival as “the cheesy concert version of Gwen Verdon’s last excursion”. The set, little more than a tiered band stand and a few old back chairs, is a rather uninspiring sight for those expecting the high production values of musical theatre. Its staging is reminiscent of the barebones character of music hall performances of Depression era theatre; given the uncertainty of our economy, this feels reassuringly apt.
The dancers are arranged to be the true stage decoration. The ensemble have the glossy Fosse to match the “Razzle Dazzle”. Half naked torsos writhe their sexy, sexy way across the stage, stylistically clicking their fingers on beat to sexy, sexy choreography. Not your traditional jazz hands and painted smile performance, the dancers are flawless acrobats. Ann Reinking’s is surely the most sophisticated choreography in musical theatre and a fitting tribute to Bob Fosse.
In Chicago, the cult of celebrity is a poisoned chalice and, quite unsurprisingly, so it is in the casting. Jimmy Osmond, the “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool” who grew up to play lawyer Billy Flynn, is a decent singer, if at times lost amidst the dancers. Emma Barton’s Roxie Hart is comedic and sassy; a fitting complement to Twinnie Lee Moore’s unexpectedly mild Velma Kelly.
With cabaret and all things vaudeville lighting up the marquees of fringe theatre the country over, it is no wonder that the production feels as fresh as ever. When the curtain comes down, a certain satirical judgement of our own society lingers, still smiling widely as it reaches for the gun.
- Scott Purvis