MUSIC OWL AWARDS: 5th – choreography; 1st – song (All That Jazz)
When I went: 9 March 2010, Spring 2011, 9 April 2018
Performers: 2011: Anna-Jane Casey (Velma), Ruthie Henshall (Roxie), Terence Maynard (Billy Flynn); 2018: Sara Soetaert (Roxie), Josefina Gabrille (Velma), Ruthie Henshall (Mama Morton), Cuba Gooding Jr (Billy Flynn), Paul Rider (Amos)
Creative team: John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics), Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb (book), Walter Bobbie (director)
Approximate price: £60 (2011); £95 (2018)
Special points: Great dancing, slick, adult
Best bit: Cell Block Tango
If I could change one thing: Cheaper so more people can go
Chicago is a classic musical made more famous by the Oscar-winning film. The songs are first-rate, with no real weak links throughout the whole track list, and the opening number (All That Jazz) instantly recognisable and the perfect way to set the scene.
The story provides an interesting commentary on fame which is still relevant today and the dancing in Chicago is also very strong. Weirdly, you find yourself rooting for jailbirds Roxie and Velma despite their guilt and you don’t spend too much time mourning the fate of their innocent Hungarian acquaintance or the hapless Amos, Roxie’s long-suffering husband. I think Velma has the best songs despite Roxie being the key protagonist, although the casting of Billy Flynn and Mama Morton can also make or break a performance. In the stage version, Velma and Roxie are joint leads, unlike in the film (where a few of Velma’s songs were cut out).
This probably isn’t the right show for young children or families but it’s perfectly suited for dates or groups of adult friends and is one not to miss when it’s on near you.
The London performances were slick, sparkling and witty, with the right amount of dark humour.
Musical theatre veteran performers Ruthie Henshall and Anna-Jane Casey did a great job in the 2011 performance that I saw, with Cell Block Tango and Hot Honey Rag particular highlights (and not just because I caught the pictured rose at the end!).
Terence Maynard played Billy Flynn in both performances and definitely improved between the two, with the second performance of Both Reached for the Gun full of life. The stage version is grittier than the movie version and the 2011 performance was near-faultless.
Sara Soetaert was excellent as Roxie, especially in Razzle Dazzle, and worked well with Josefina Gabrielle’s acerbic Velma. Cuba Gooding Jr, as the most famous actor in this production, features in most of the show’s marketing, and is a great dancer and polished, witty actor. Some reviewers will probably say that his voice isn’t as good as the rest of the cast’s, and on some notes it did seem to fade, but he does have a good belt and brought some amusing sleaze to the part of Billy Flynn.
As usual, Cell Block Tango and When You’re Good to Mama were highlights – I think possibly Ruthie Henshall is even better as Mama Morton than she was as Roxie.
I really liked the fact that the musical director announced the names of all the cast for their curtain calls so everyone got a name check – this must be a rare thing, especially for ‘chorus’ members.