There’s much to love in Kander, Ebb and Fosse’s Chicago: peerless tunes, sharp choreography and a satirical savvy developed from Maurine Dallas Watkins’ original Jazz Age play. The 2001 production brought all this and more to the Edinburgh Playhouse, but a little less is presented here in Glasgow.
Director Scott Faris has explored the show in no less than 16 countries worldwide. This might explain why this occasion sees him leave the darker elements of the story at the stage door, preferring instead to focus on the work’s lighter side. Nothing is left untold - we get the full tale of two cat-fighting, murderous glamour-pusses scratching their way to fame and fortune through notoriety - but it’s all done in a knockabout style that belies the facts.
This emphasis on fun is evidenced by John Lee Beatty’s set which grandstands the tight ten-piece Dixieland ensemble on the stage rather than in the pit. They play with panache but, as you might guess, take up no little amount of space in their built-up block amidst the action. This urges lighting designer Ken Billington to draw too much attention to the musicians at the expense of the space where the plot’s being played out.
When the band let loose we’re treated to a full flavour of the era. It’s disappointing this doesn’t get total support from William Ivey Long’s costume design. Whilst some female performers enjoy sassy Vaudeville bodystockings, some of the guys are strangely topless save for Take That type waistcoats that should remain strictly consigned to their uber-camp ‘& Party’ period. This is Chicago, not Cabaret.
Something more fitting is the well-tailored swagger of Gary Wilmot’s Billy Flynn, in fine voice for such numbers as All I Care About and the ironically dark Razzle Dazzle. He’s matched by former Eastender Emma Barton as Roxie Hart. She gives an electric singing and dancing performance, and one that crackles with all the due cynicism the role demands.
Twinnie-Lee Moore also offers energy and humour in equal good measure to Velma Kelly, although a vital spark is missing from exchanges between herself and Barton. Similarly, the company work well with Gary Chryst’s re-creation of the original Fosse choreography, but it does lack some of the angular urgency of those supposedly confined in prison.
In short, the acrid character seems to have absconded from this production; something of a crime I think.