Picture: Paul Coltas

Chicago - the musical

The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

*****

BOB Fosse directed and choreographed the first Broadway production of Chicago way back in 1976; thirty five years on, the sharpness and sheer pazazz of Fosse's unique style has lost none of it's ravishing appeal, wherever it plays.

For all its unashamed sexiness and cut glass dance moves, the show oozes charm and genuine humour.

It stops short of just being a platform for  exhibition choreography and actually tells an engaging  story with real themes.  Strong, gutsy women, corruption, injustice and the age old power of sex all combine to give this show a vigour and pulse that never fades.

Backing the story up are the extraordinary, angular and disciplined routines lit to perfection and carried out with immaculate precision. One thing this show cannot do is look tired and certainly, on this evidence, it is far from doing that

Much of Fosse's genius lies in his attention to detail. Even tiny moves and gestures - fingers clicking, shoulders hunching, noses twitching - are done with almost robotic precision. Lines are clean, bodies are perfectly in harmony and costumes are designed to thrill and provoke in equal measure.

This latest revival adds a few more touches but keeps faith with the original formula which, when done well, never fails to entertain.

Fresh from Strictly Come Dancing fame, Ali Bastian is the latest to fill the shoes of Roxie Hart, a good time girl on the look out for fame - or at least her name in the papers.

 Tupele Dorgu as Velma, Stefan Booth as Billy Flynn, Ali Bastian as Roxie and Bernie Nolan, who was unavailble for opening night, as Mama Morton. Pictures: Hugo Glendinning 

 Miss Bastian is excellent, embracing the heart of Roxie and being genuinely funny to boot. Tupele Borgu as Velma Kelly is long limbed and fabulous as the hard bitten jail bird and Stefan Booth melts hearts as the expensive lawyer, Billy Flynn.

If matinee idols still existed, Mr Booth would certainly qualify. Strong performances too from Jamie Baughan as Amos (aka Mr Cellophane ) and Genevieve Nicole who went on in place of Bernie Nolan as Mama Morton. If nerves were there, they didn't show in a very assured performance.

Chicago, though, stands and falls by the quality of its choreography and a very talented company keep the routines sharp, vital and exciting throughout. The band, placed at the back of the stage, deliver John Kander's music beautifully - often intrinsic to the action onstage and often with lovely touches of humour.

 Cell Block Tango, All That Jazz, We both Reached For The Gun and Class stood out in a sea of quality numbers but perhaps one of the reasons this show survives when others fall is that everything about it is quality.

Quality standards are famously high on this show with every production being scrutinized and checked over by the American Producers and choreographers before its allowed to go on. With that kind of stringency in place, it shouldn't fail . . . and it doesn't

If you have seen this show, see it again. It's better than ever.  If you haven't, you are in for a treat. Beautiful girls, rippling men, stunning routines and a score to die for. What's not to like?

Chicago runs at The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton until 19-05-12.

Tom Roberts

And from the next cell block  . . .

****

SOME of the sexiest convicts you will ever see light up this award winning musical which is still pulling in large audiences and sending the customers home whistling the lively tunes.

The leggy prisoners turn up the heat with the Cell Block Tango in which they describe how and why they murdered their husbands/lovers . . . one claiming her partner 'ran onto my knife ten times'.

The female killers include 1920s nightclub singer Roxie Hart, beautifully played by former Strictly Come Dancing star Ali Bastian, and the story revolves around slick lawyer Billy Flynn's use of a bit of razzle dazzle to save her neck.

Stefan Booth, who worked alongside Ali in Hollyoaks, is convincing as Flynn (All I Care About is Love), and there is a brilliant scene where he has Roxie on his lap, like a ventriloquist's dummy, during a question-and-answer session with the gullible press.

A terrific performance, too, from Tupele Dorgu (Coronation Street), playing double-murderess Velma Kelly, and Jamie Baughan earns the sympathy of the audience in his role as Roxie's wronged husband Amos Hart who sums up his own short-comings in the emotional song Mister Cellophane.

On opening night Bernie Nolan was not available, but Genevieve Nicole proved an adequate stand-in as prison Matron 'Mama' Morton.

The dancing to Bob Fosse's brilliant choreography is superb, while the on-stage orchestra, directed by Adrian Kirk, are much more than musicians. To 19.05.12

Paul Marston 

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