Chicago - July 2016
'Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts'…so begins the international award winning Broadway and West End musical, Chicago, which is currently touring the UK and this week is staging at the Bristol Hippodrome.
The UK tour stars EastEnders actor John Partridge (Cats, A Chorus Line, Miss Saigon, Starlight Express) as smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, Dancing on Ice winner and Coronation Street star Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale, Grease, Mamma Mia!) as Roxie Hart, and X Factor winner and once real life prison warden Sam Bailey as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton.
Popularised on screen in the 2002 film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere, the story, set in the 1920s Windy City, revolves around the battle for supremacy (or is it notoriety?) between nightclub singer Roxy Hart and Velma Kelly who are both incarcerated in the county jail for murder.
Packed with a host of foot-tapping, sing-a-long numbers such as All that Jazz, Razzle Dazzle and Cell Block Tango the show opens, quite literally, with a bang as self-absorbed glamour-puss Roxy shoots dead her lover.
And for the next two and a half hours we were treated to a melange of glitz, glamour and irresistible theatre, the like of which has been wowing audiences around the world for the past 40 years.
No wonder the show has been honoured with six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards, a Grammy and thousands of standing ovations.
However, any show whatever the reputation of its producers and directors will only stand and fall by its central casting.
But Hayley Tamaddon, Sam Bailey, John Partridge and Sophie Carmen-Jones rose to the challenge with the ease and aplomb of seasoned musical theatre professionals.
The diminutive Tamaddon has a huge voice, superb stage presence and an enviable audience command. Her delivery of the song The Name on Everybody’s Lips (is gonna be Roxie) which underscores her compelling desire to be famous (at any price) was beautifully delivered. And she nicely captured Roxie Hart’s childish innocence where every idea is ill-considered but who retains the audience sympathy throughout her scheming machinations.
Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly is sensational both to look at and listen to. Sarcastic, sexy, a long-legged, ostensibly self-assured but vulnerable, vaudeville pro she dances up a storm opening the show with her powerful nightclub performance of All That Jazz before being arrested for killing her adulterous husband and sister.
John Partridge, fresh from EastEnders and replete in his very shiny black patent shoes, delivered almost everything we wanted, and expected, from Billy Flynn – handsome, sexy, manipulative, suave and educated.
His West End past came to bear in a solid performance, proving he can sing (he held one note for an audience-applauding length of time) as well as dance. However, not quite enough snake oil for me but then I am a Richard Gere fan!
Special mention should go to 2013 X Factor winner Sam Bailey. She may have started her stage career as a singer but she proved her worth in the acting stakes imitating life as prison guard Mama Morton the matron of Cook County Jail whose mantra in life is succinctly summed up in her opening number When You’re Good to Mama.
AD Richardson who played Mary Sunshine, the newspaper reporter who follows the trials of both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, added to the fun hitting some astonishingly high notes in his/her rendering of A Little Bit of Good.
Making the 11-piece band an interactive part of the show is an unusual device but it does mean that the acting space remains minimal with the entire action taking place on a narrow apron at the front of the stage.
Having said that the band was brilliant. Not only highly accomplished in their delivery of the backing tunes their extravagant movements (especially from maestro Ben Atkinson) were an entertainment in itself. At times I couldn’t quite decide whether it was Monty Python or the Muppets but that only added to the fun!
I was not convinced by the lighting, which, appreciating that it was either a nightclub, prison block or courtroom, was far too muted to sufficiently highlight facial expressions.
All in all this was a fabulous fun-filled production of an old classic.
The success of any show is often determined by the sum of its parts and how well they integrate and complement each other. Throughout this performance the dancing, singing and acting was pure West End. The exceptional ensemble of dancers moved with a rhythmic sensuality across the stage as a single unit beautifully co-ordinated and choreographed. Each finger gesture, foot lift or turn of the head, either individually or as a group, was mesmeric.
The whole company from top to bottom can be justifiably proud of what they achieved.
As a final reflection on Chicago it never ceases to amaze me how an audience can get involved in, and enjoy, a show which is all about murder, corruption, deceit, exploitation and treachery. As each act unfolds the more we warm to Velma, Roxie, and the other ‘Merry Murderesses’ in the Cook County Jail. Decadence becomes entertaining, seductive, absorbing. We laugh at the jokes, we applaud the dance numbers, and we are lured in by the characters as they involve us in their duplicity. And then we are complicit in the belittling of Amos (a brilliantly understated performance by Neil Ditt as Roxie’s enduringly devoted husband), a guy so ordinary, no one – not even Roxie – notices him. His rendering of Mr Cellophane was one of the moving moments of the show. And he didn’t even get an exit number for his trouble!
At the end of the show, the two murderesses thanked us, the audience – for our belief in their innocence as they threw flowers into the auditorium. Of course they were not innocent, but by enjoying their performances, we somehow absolved them of their crimes.
Their curtain call performance of Hot Honey Rag, beautifully sung and brilliantly synchronised, rounded off a great evening.
Chicago is at the Bristol Hippodrome and runs until the end of the week.
PREVIEW: EastEnder star John Partridge is coming to the Bristol Hippodrome for five nights to play Billy Flynn in Chicago.
John was also a judge on BBC1’s Over the Rainbow, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search to find a Dorothy for the musical The Wizard of Oz.
The show runs from Monday to Saturday, July 4-9, and is billed as being all about 'murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery'.
Hayley Tamaddon who has just finished playing Andrea Beckett in Coronation Street and also played Del Dingle in Emmerdale is Roxie Hart.
She also won the fifth series of ITV1’s Dancing on Ice.
Mama Morton is Sam Bailey who worked as a prison officer at HM Prison Gartree for three years until 2013.
At the end of that year Sam won the 10th series of The X Factor receiving more than a million votes over the course of the final weekend.
Following her win, her debut single Skyscraper was released and achieved the Christmas Number One.
This was followed in 2014 with her debut album, The Power of Love, reaching number one in the album charts.
Based on real life events back in the roaring 1920s, nightclub singer Roxie Hart shoots her lover and along with cell block rival, double-murderess Velma Kelly, they fight to keep from death row with the help of smooth talking lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Top musical talents John Kander and Fred Ebb created the sexy score and legendary choreographer Bob Fosse worked out the moves.
Songs include All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle.
Chicago plays until Saturday, July 9 evenings at 7.30pm and matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm
Tickets from £15 with concessions available.
For more details click HERE.