Making crime pay handsomely

Bearing witness: Tupele Dorgu as Velma, Stefan Booth as Billy Flynn, Ali Bastian as Roxie and Bernie Nolan as Mama Morton. Pictures: Hugo Glendinning

Chicago – The Musical

New Alexandra Theatre

****

DYING has always been a fairly good career move to boost your profile but it does have its downside, namely the rather obvious fact you are not around to bask in the adoration or spend the profits.

So next best thing? How about let someone else do the dying and you just do the killing? Nothing like a bit of notoriety to boost earning power, particularly for a pregnant showgirl defending her honour and a vaudeville singer who took out two sides of a love triangle with a revolver.

That was the way of doing things in pre-prohibition Chicago, the Roaring Twenties when this Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse satire with music by John Kander was set, highlighting corruption in the justice system and, rather like today, a media that flitted from sensation to sensation like a swarm of flies.

Former Coronation Street star Tupele Dorgu is, to be honest, a bit scary as the leggy Velma Kelly as she puts in  a classy performance as the brash double - alleged - murderess. Her lovers probably woke up wearing flak jackets.

Velma is in the women's block at Cook County Jail awaiting trial for killing her husband and sister who were . . . being somewhat friendly when Velma burst in on them.

She is being groomed as a future vaudeville star by the queen of corruption Matron “Mama” Morton, modelled on the wonderful Sophie Tucker and played by the ever reliable Bernie Nolan. Mama helps get her girls off and sets them up with new careers, for a fee of course, helped by celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn, who can get anyone off anything for $5,000.

Ali Bastian as the not so innocent chorus girl Roxie who gets a little upset with lovers who walk out on her - and  so does her gun

Played by Stefan Booth of Hollyoaks and The Bill fame, Flynn invents scenarios to explain the most damning evidence that not only find his clients not guilty but almost have courts apologising for trying them in the first place.

With Velma ready for a national tour once she had had her big Press launch, or trial as it was also known all was hunky dory until Strictly Come Dancing semi-finalist Ali Bastian, who was in The Bill with Booth, incidentally, appears as Roxie Hart who has killed her lover Fred Caseley (Ian Oswald) because he was dumping her.

Or in-Flynn speak, had broken into her home, plied her with drink and was trying to have his wicked way with her – Oh and she was pregnant as well, for extra bonus points.

With a new sensation in tow, the Press, led by columnist  Mary Sunshine, a sort of Tootsie figure in the hands, or rather frock and wig, of Alex Weatherhill, leave Velma in her cell and swarm around Roxie but even her ticket to stardom is cancelled when, as her not guilty verdict is announced, another even more sensational, multiple homicide in the street outside clears the court with the Press, fame and fortune vanishing through the door.

In the background, hardly noticed, is Amos Hart, played beautifully by Jamie Baughan, who loves Roxie enough to confess to her murder and even loves her when it is obvious the baby she is carrying cannot be is, convincing himself he is the father.

He really makes his mark with the sad song of the show, Mr Cellophane about how nobody notices him, or at least I think that is what it was about, probably no one was listening – a lovely performance.

Indeed all the songs were given the treatment with some style and a slick ensemble of dancers including four scantily clad young ladies who helped warm up a somewhat chilly theatre (where seating is gradually being refurbished patrons will be pleased to hear).

It opened with the show signature number, All That Jazz, led by Velma then Roxie sings the bittersweet Funny Honey about the husband she takes advantage of every day.

We had the Cell Block Tango, with six murderesses pleading mitigating circumstances for cold-blooded killings – apart from Hunyak, (Chloe Ames) a Hungarian who spoke no English apart from “Not Guilty” and relied on the US justice system rather than Billy Flynn to establish her undoubted and genuine innocence . . . she hanged of course.

Tupele Dorgu as Velma the vaudeville killer who under her hard exterior hides a  . . . hard centre

We had Billy explain it was not evidence but spin that won trials in Razzle Dazzle and finally Roxie and Velma, finding their dream at last, or at least a low fat, low calorie, cut down version of it, as a down the bill, Vaudeville double act in Nowadays.

This is a musical which is older than most of the cast but there was nothing stale or faded in this production, helped in no small part by an excellent 10 piece orchestra under Adrian Kirk.

It is also helped that all the songs are written in vaudeville style and based on actual performers which sets the whole thing in the era of the 1920s with the story told in song rather than dialogue.

The musical, incidentally, is based on a 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins who was a reporter on the Chicago Tribune.

The play in turn 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 helped by celebrity lawyers who were to be the inspiration for silver tongued Flynn.

This is a quality production and is another sign that ATG are bringing the dear old Alex back from the Midlands theatrical doldrums which is great news for the region.. To 10-03-12.

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile from the table near the band . . .

**** 

THIS is a musical that seems to prove crime does pay, particularly if you are a slick lawyer or glamorous female killer with a sob story to tell the press.

Well, that was how it looked in Chicago during the late 1920s when, in this tale of murder, corruption and adultery set to music, sharp-as-a-needle Billy Flynn could win over a jury with his high power brand of razzle dazzle.

Stefan Booth as smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn

I've seen this musical many times, and while the current cast isn't the best, they still turn on the style with the brilliant Bob Fosse inspired choreography and great songs like All That Jazz, Cell Block Tango, All I Care About is Love, and Mister Cellophane.

Stefan Booth, of The Bill and a finalist in TV's Dancing on Ice, proves he can hold a long note when singing as well as grasping a bundle of notes in the role of crafty lawyer Flynn, while Ali Bastian displays the nimble footwork that saw her reach the semi-final of Strictly Come Dancing in her role of Roxie Hart, the dizzy blonde who guns down her lover and expects her simple husband to carry the can.

Jamie Baughan plays the amiable Amos Hart, delivering the touching song, Mister Cellophane, perfectly, and Tupele Dorgu, the former Coronation Street star, is a bundle of energy with a strong voice as the glamorous double murderer Velma Kelly, a role she has always wanted to play.

It was rather chilly in the front stalls on opening night, but being so close to the sexy six female killers singing and dancing the Cell Block Tango certainly raised the temperature, and in charge of the dangerous ladies, Bernie Nolan impresses as prison matron Mama Morton   

And as a final sentence...the ten-piece orchestra, directed by Adrian Kirk, are terrific, deserving the ovation which matched the one for the cast at the final curtain.

to 10.03.12

Paul Marston

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