chicago head

John Partridge as smooth talking lawyer Billy Flynn. Pictures: Catherine Ashmore

Chicago - The musical

Wolverhampton Grand

****

WHAT a cracker of a show, and all that jazz, taking you on a sparkling trip back to the Roaring Twenties.

They say life begins at 40 and this latest production has certainly injected new life into this 41-year-old show making it as slick and sprightly as ever.

It’s sexy, sassy, funny, easy on the eye and two and a half hours just flies by in a whirl of razzle dazzle entertainment.

The show is based on a 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins which in turn was based on her days as a reporter on The Chicago Tribune at a time when there was a public fascination with murderesses, turning them into celebrities. It was a time when pretty and sexy was halfway to acquittal . . . and a new career.

And Velma Kelly is both, the pretty, sexy star of the joint, accused of killing her boyfriend and her sister in the ultimate in coitus interruptus – not that having done the crime meant doing time when silver tongued defence lawyer Billy Flynn was around, at $5,000 a pop.

Sophie Carmen-Jones, who has an impressive West End CV, is a confident, feisty, Velma, a woman whose main interest in life is . . . well Velma, really. She’s the only one she cares about.

And when it comes to confident there is Billy Flynn, who can generate more spin than Shane Warne in turning murder defendants into victims so that acquittal is the very least that a jury can do to help them.mama and velma

John Partridge is perhaps best known for playing Christian Clarke in EastEnders, the power of TV, but has a long history of West End musicals behind him and lends a handsome, easy charm to Flynn, who along with Matron Mama Morton, the prison boss, played with a jolly air of corruption by Sam Bailey, has a lucrative cabaret career mapped out for Velma after she is acquitted.

Sam, incidentally, can’t half belt a song out.

Sam Bailey as Mama Morton and Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly

The cosy arrangement is all set up, or was before the arrival of Roxie Hart in the shape of Hayley Tamaddon who was Andrea Beckett in Coronation Street and Del Dingle in Emmerdale. She also won ITV’s Dancing on Ice but is another with West End experience including The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.

She gives us a lively, self-centred Roxie, with an ego as big as Velma’s and an attitude to match, mind you her ventriloquist’s dummy sequence with Billy is as funny and slick as I have seen it. She adds adultery to murder to make her the new public celebrity No 1.

And then there is Andy . . . sorry, Amos Hart, played by Neil Ditt. He is the sad creature who found himself married to Roxie and would do anything to save her from the gallows – until he finds she is having a baby that could not possibly be his by several months. Even then she can persuade him he is the father, exposing a gap in his basic knowledge of maths or biology or both.

Amos’s big moment is his despairing solo Mister Cellophane, the man nobody notices, beautifully sung by Ditt – for anyone who happened to be listening.

Leading the Press pack is Mary Sunshine, who roxie and billycan be persuaded, by Billy of course, to find the good in anyone, played with a surprising revelation by A D Richardson. If you have seen Chicago you already know, if not? Well if we told you it wouldn’t be a surprise.

And around them is good support from the rest of the cast giving us policemen, district attorneys, judges, juries, reporters, victims and fellow prisoners with some superb choreography based on the original by the late Bob Fosse, from Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst. It’s slick, sexy, seductive and at times sees the excellent dancers moving not only in unison but as one unit. There is also a nice nod to Busby Berkeley in Billy Flynn’s big number, All I care about, all long legs and ostrich feather fans.

Gottle of geer: Hayley Tamaddon as Roxie lets Billy Flynn do all the talking

This Fred Ebb and John Kander musical demands an orchestra to do justice to the jazzy, vaudeville songs and music which is provided superbly by the lads in the Cell Block H band dominating the stage; ten strong with drums, brass, reeds, double bass, piano and even a banjo under musical director, and at times the MC, Ben Atkinson, they recreate the music of the era beautifully and seem to be enjoying themselves all night long, especially when they let rip with their part pieces at the start of Act 2.

John Lee Beatty’s design is still interesting with its raked bandstand heading up into the flies dominating the stage. Scene changes are instant for the simple reason that apart from a few chairs here and there, there is nothing to change, no pauses, nothing to interrupt the flow while William Ivey Long’s costume designs are still sexy, daring with just a hint of debauchery about them

If you have never seen Cabaret then this is a chance to see what the fuss is about and if you have seen it before, this is a chance to see an old friend in particulalry good form. To 25-06-16

Roger Clarke

20-06-16

As a word of caution allow a little extra time as the Grand has instigated security checks with bag searches at the doors which means queues and delays to admission.

This production of Chicago returns to the West Midlands from 12-31 December at The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.

 

And in the next cell block

****

STAFF were checking handbags and manbags of people arriving at the theatre in a security operation, but they might have found more weapons if they had frisked the cast of this all-action musical.

The stage was packed with very attractive but dangerous women, behind bars for murdering partners in the story built round the crafty skills of defence lawyer Billy Flynn.

Packed with fine songs and terrific dancing to the slick, original choreography of the legendary Bob Fosse, the show is dynamic and sexy, with a generous helping of drama, tragedy and humour.

John Partridge, of EastEnders fame, proves a convincing Flynn, using his links with newspaper reporters to build public sympathy for some of the murderous females, particularly Roxie Hart, inside for gunning down her lover and upsetting the notorious fellow inmate, Velma Kelly.

Hayley Tamaddon is impressive as Roxie and shares a particularly entertaining scene with Partridge when he uses her in the fashion of a ventriloquist’s puppet to provide the correct answers to questions from the press.

Sophie Carmen-Jones is excellent, too, as Velma Kelly, while Neil Ditt makes a special impact as the hapless Amos Hart, long –suffering husband of Roxie, with the emotional song, Mister Cellophane, Sam Bailey is in great voice as prison matron ‘Mama’ Morton, and A.D.Richardson is a surprise packet in the role of columnist Mary Sunshine.

Paul Marston 

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