Review Round-Ups

Did critics think Chicago was criminal?

The musical returned to the West End last night, and we round up the critics’ opinions from across major publications to see what their verdicts were

Cuba Gooding Jr, Sarah Soetaert and Paul Rider in Chicago
Cuba Gooding Jr, Sarah Soetaert and Paul Rider in Chicago
© Tristram Kenton

Lucinda Everett, WhatsOnStage


"The female leads are all old hands – the sort whose confidence and polish makes them not just enjoyable but positively relaxing to watch. Ruthie Henshall, who originated the role of Roxie Hart in the West End, and later played Velma Kelly, completes the triumvirate by taking on Mama Morton. But while her vocals soar, the thrum of Mama's sexual power is noticeably muted. Josefina Gabrielle (who played Roxie for years) takes on Velma, delivering vampy swagger turned squirming desperation. But Sarah Soetaert's Roxie is my pick of the bunch, splicing the murderess' hard-nosed ambition with a winning goofiness."

"The show's celebrity import is Cuba Gooding Jr, whose Academy Award-winning acting chops are more than evident in the charismatic lawyer Billy Flynn. But his husky singing voice struggles with the music's range and the chorus soon become a blessing-cum-curse – a flawless bunch of number-nailing, sex-oozing pros that simultaneously buoy up and show up their American star."

"Despite its flaws, though, with music so iconic, a creative blueprint so enduring, and a cast this strong, Chicago's latest outing will be a firm crowd favourite."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Performers bring individuality. Sarah Soetaert invests Roxie with the elfin mischief of a naughty schoolgirl who, eyeing up the rippling muscles of the male chorus, coos: "These are my boys." Josefina Gabrielle, another Chicago regular, plays Velma as the more hard-bitten of the two and does some impressive spins, twirls and high-kicks. As the self-seeking lawyer, Billy Flynn, Gooding Jr displays too much surface charm and sings modestly but hoofs energetically. Meanwhile, Ruthie Henshall, who played Roxie in London in 1997, now zestfully executes the role of the jail den-mother and Paul Rider inevitably scoops up the sympathy as Roxie's discarded husband in a number, "Mr Cellophane", celebrating his invisibility.

"While it is pleasant to renew acquaintance with numbers such as "All That Jazz" and "Razzle Dazzle", everything is exactly as I remember it from 1997: that includes the chilling moment when a rope descends from the flies as a Hungarian girl dies protesting her innocence to remind us of the reality of judicial murder. For all the cast's commitment, this is as much a piece of museum theatre as those old Soviet shows that went unchanged through the decades."

Tim Bano, The Stage


"Pulling power comes from Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr, making his West End debut – and oh dear. It's not great. At all. The hoarse voice is forgivable – he'll get over that eventually – but what kills it is the lack of precision as soon as the musical phrases become remotely intricate. He can bash out a melody slowly, but beyond that he loses detail, fudges notes and hopes that his charming smile and knowingly cheap, cheery showmanship can get him through."

"Besides Gooding, the cast is inexcusably white without even being able to make the usual piss-poor argument about ‘historical accuracy' considering how diverse 1920s Chicago was."

Ben Lawrence, The Telegraph


"Gooding is an engaging talent and his performance as the disgraced former actor in The People v OJ Simpson reminded us that he is a force of nature who can rip up the rule book, throwing himself into a very believable portrayal of controlling psychopathy. Now he's making his West End debut in the well-worn role of Chicago's Billy Flynn (for the show's 21st anniversary production) and, as with his portrayal of Simpson, he has made the role feel freshly minted."

"Gooding gives a complete performance, showing a touch of the failed vaudevillian who knows his best days are behind him…His vocal talents are less in evidence, however. He has a true voice – rasping and rather plaintive – but it is too often drowned out by the orchestra or contrasting unfavourably with the truly excellent ensemble. "

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard


"Gooding gives an amiable enough performance, but he doesn't boast a strong or confident singing voice. Instead the show belongs, as it must, to those two publicity-hungry murderesses, Velma Kelly (Josefina Gabrielle) and Roxie Hart (Sarah Soetaert), who vie to outwit each other when it comes to column inches. Towering even over them in the magnificence stakes is Ann Reinking's delicious choreography in the trademark angular black-clothed manner of Bob Fosse. It's a constant lithe and limber delight throughout this slick and pacey show."

"Every number in the production, based on Walter Bobbie's original New York direction, is vivid and individual. The lively band, in which trumpet and trombones play with particular flourish, takes up a large chunk of the stage, but this leads to a stylish pared-back staging."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"Experienced musical theatre performers and Chicago veterans Sarah Soetaert and Josefina Gabrielle hold down the main parts of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, feuding femme fatales in Prohibition-era Windy City. And they're solid: the show retains a classy edge and strong fundamentals, not least because of the high kickin' choreography, styled after that of the show's original director Bob Fosse."

"But in many other respects, it's starting to show its age. The aggressively sexy/‘sexy' black mesh costumes feel like the paraphernalia of a bygone, lairier era. The commentary on the relationship between infamy and actual fame feels somewhat unsophisticated in the age of Trump. And like Stephen Daldry's production of An Inspector Calls, it just feels like it's cock-blocking fresh takes on a piece that's really too smart to spend the rest of eternity locked in 1996."

John Nathan, Metro


"Gooding Jr's Flynn has stacks of charm but the 50-year-old — who played the title role in TV's acclaimed The People v OJ Simpson — gets fewer opportunities than he might like to try his hand at following Bob Fosse's incomparable choreography. This is probably the sexiest musical ever and remains the great, smouldering show that first arrived in London from New York in 1997."

"Josefina Gabrielle (a former Roxie in the production) returns as femme fatale Velma Kelly, while Roxie is terrifically played by Sarah Soetaert as a kind of raunchy Dolly Parton. First she started to ‘fool around', Roxie tells us, then she started ‘screwing around, which is fooling around without dinner'."