all that jazz

Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly. Pictures: Catherine Ashmore

Chicago - The Musical

The New Alexandra Theatre

*****

WHO says crime doesn’t pay? If you are pretty, sexy, can throw in adultery and a slice of good-time-girl and, for good measure, commit murder in sensational style – your career is made.

And Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly certainly tick the sexy box and can add sensational murders to their CV after their publicist-come-lawyer Billy Flynn has worked his magic  – all part of his $5,000 a pop service which offers a near guaranteed acquittal.

This is 1920’s prohibition Chicago, the Jazz Age, mobsters and bootleggers, Al Capone and Eliot Ness, and murder, especially by women of husbands and lovers, has become a spectator sport, with every lurid detail lapped up by a sensation chasing Press.

And that is where this Bob Fosse musical opens amid a chorus line of legs mixed with six-pack torsos and the sounds of All That Jazz flowing down from the orchestra – sexsational.

Then Roxie has to spoil it by shooting extramarital lover boy Fred, played for his short time upon this earth, by Francis Foreman.

Emmerdale and Corrie star Hayley Tamaddon shows some lovely comic timing as Roxie and no small measure of sex appeal, which always helps with all male juries. Fred’s heinous crime, by the way, was to threaten to dump her, and saying he deserved all he got is not seen by anyoHayley and Johnne but Roxie as the best defence in the world.

So enter fellow soap star John Partridge as silver tongued lawyer Billy Flynn, if you have $5,000, who mixes show business and fiction and calls it a defence. Partridge has the right amount of smarmy charm to make Flynn a believable liar.

The very clever We both reached for the gun ventriloquist routine demands impeccable timing and Roxie and Billy nail it for a highlight of the show.

Hayley Tamaddon as Roxie and John Partridge as Billy Flynn in We Both Reached for the Gun

With Roxie the next big thing in murderesses, double killer Velma, in a sparkling performance from Sophie Carmen-Jones, finds her moment of fame passing into history as she battles to keep herself in the infamy limelight.

Not that she is alone. There are other madam murderers in the Joint's killing club as we hear in the fun Cell Block Tango as we discover six ways to leave your lover . . . on a permanent basis.

Mica Paris has a voice to move mountains and fills the stage with rich sound as Matron Mama Morton the jail boss who also seems to have a theatrical agency for marketable murderers on the side, while A D Richardson is a delight as the sob sister reporter Mary Sunshine. This is a classy performance, one of the best I have seen in the role, with its surprise, not to give anything away, at the end.

Then there is Roxie’s husband, mechanic Amos, played by Neil Ditt, cuckolded and yet still so much in love and ready to forgive pretty well anything, and there is an ever growing litany of things to forgive, with his song of insignificance, Mr Cellophane. A lovely performance.

The 10 piece band under Léon Charles are superb, whether jazz, big band or, half heartedly, for Amos while the dancing and ensemble work by originally Bob Fosse and later in his style by Ann Reinking, is just magical. It’s slick, sensuous, sultry and paints sexy pictures all over the stage – there is even a tribute in there to Busby Berkeley with ostrich feather fans. Each one is a star in their own right.

Chicago always appears more of a cabaret format than a musical, with minimal set comprising of mainly the orchestra in a raked bank, and stylised action which works well and 40 years on still looks fresh and original. There is plenty of wit in there with satire which might be about Chicago then but still has echoes of now and as for Roxie and Velma? They were acquitted of course and leave us with their song and dance double act before heading off on the road to make . . . a killing.

As an alternative to Christmas panto this is a show hot enough to melt away any frosty evening. Its rock, or should that be Roxie solid entertainment . . . and all that jazz. To 31-12-16

Roger Clarke

12-11-16

WHEN it opened in 1975 Chicago might have been a modern musical but it had its own built in history. For example, Fred Ebb wrote book and lyrics and John Kander the music in vaudeville style with each character’s songs modelled on a star of the age, Mamma Morton was modelled on Sophie Tucker for instance, perhaps the best known in Britain.

It helps set the whole feel of the show in the 1920s, and then the musical is based on Maurine Dallas Watkins play of 1926. She was a reporter on the Chicago Tribune and her play was based on two particular trials she had covered, Beulah Annan, who was the model for Roxie, and like her was married to a devoted car mechanic, and shot her lover. 

Then there was Belva Gaertner , a cabaret singer, who was accused of shooting her lover but claimed he could have shot himself. The evidence said otherwise rather loudly but both were acquitted, by all male juries, helped by a pair of celebrity lawyers who were to be the inspiration for slippery Billy Flynn.

billy

 Billy Flynn meets Busby Berkeley

And in Court No 2 . . .

*****

ANY jury would bring in a unanimous verdict in favour of the cast in this hugely entertaining musical featuring very attractive women killers and a crafty lawyer who could virtually guarantee freedom for a 5,000 dollar fee.

Set in the late 1920s, ittakes a cynical look at the way the legal system could be manipulated by a slick ‘mouthpiece’ and a good sob story, eagerly gobbled up by newspapers….especially if the accused were good looking and sexy.

Here Emmerdale and Dancing on Ice star Hayley Tamaddon and Sophie Carmen-Jones, who has appeared in Casualty and as a dancer in The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, play the stunning Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, behind bars awaiting trial for murders and desperately competing for headlines to gain public sympathy.

Both sing and dance superbly, and John Partridge, of EastEnders fame, impresses as the smart lawyer Billy Flynn who blatantly uses the media in his plans to save his clients from justice, a scheme perfectly highlighted in sarcastic number Razzle Dazzle and the brilliant scene where Flynn uses Roxie like a ventriloquist’s dummy to answer probing questions from the press.

A lovely performance, too, from Neil Ditt as Amos Hart, the hapless husband of Roxie, at first prepared to carry the can for the shooting of his wife’s lover, and summing up his own lack of personality in the clever song, Mister Cellophane.

Mica Paris, playing Mama Morton, matron of the women’s prison, delights the audience with When You’re Good to Mama, and A.D.Richardson reveals a fine falsetto voice as ‘sob sister’ columnist Mary Sunshine….then reveals something else later in the show!

One of the highlights is provided by Velma and all the women killers in the Cell Block Tango when they each explain why they murdered their men….one because he kept popping chewing gum.

Sparkling choreography and the powerful music played by the on-stage orchestra, directed by Leon Charles, complete a great Christmas offering at the Alex.It’s certainly not a prison panto.

To 31.12.16

Paul Marston 

Index page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre