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Chicago ****

Scott Purvis reviews the current tour of the classic musical which 'breezes between elation and disappointment'.

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 cold-blooded murder of her lover, Roxie Hart, wittily played by Faye Brooks, grasps for fame through the bars of a prison cell. Helping her to carve fame from infamy is corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn (Darren Day), a man so confident in his abilities 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, and the Bugs Moran to Roxie’s Capone.

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 black chairs, is a rather sedate sight, reminiscent of the barebones character of music hall performances of Depression era theatre.

But it is the dancers who 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, clicking their fingers on beat to choreography as smooth as a shot of good bourbon. Not your clichéd jazz hands and painted smile performances, the dancers are flawless acrobats and the true centrepiece of the show. Ann Reinking’s choreography is delightful, full of humour, intelligence and a reverent tribute for Bob Fosse.

In Chicago, the cult of celebrity is a poisoned chalice and, perhaps expectedly, so it is in the casting. Darren Day is a decent singer but his Billy Flynn is at times lost amidst the dancers’ feathers and footwork, giving some of his character’s big notes a pardon. “So Macho” singer Sinnita Malone’s casting as Matron Mama Morton, too, is underwhelming - her performance is distractingly soft in its delivery and never truly finds the grit and gall of a woman hardened by corruption and crime.

Even Faye Brooks and Djalenga Scott’s Roxie and Velma seem surprisingly understated. Like a prohibition cocktail, Chicago is a show that needs strength to be truly enjoyable, and another measure of gin wouldn’t kill the characters. Still, the killer duo act the piece well and keep the piece bouncing along with fun. The toast of the show, nonetheless, is Joel Montague as the adorably invisible Amos Hart, with a glass raised high for Drag Race star Divina De Campo’s operatic and hilarious Mary Sunshine.

Like the Windy City itself, this production breezes between elation and disappointment but, with the choreography clicking delightfully and Kander and Ebb’s outstanding lyrics and music, this is a piece which leaves audiences blown away.

Reviewed at the Glasgow Kings in September 2021. The tour continues with this cast until February 2022. For further details visit the production's website.

Tags: theatre

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