Chicago the Musical Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – 22/11/16 to 26/11/16

I have a soft spot for Chicago the Musical, I once had to write a 3000 word assignment on Reciprocity and I quoted heavily from Kander and Ebb’s finest.  I was clearly marked by a kindred spirit though, as in my feed back I was told my essay had “Razzle Dazzle”

And that is what we had in Leeds last night – a lot of Razzle Dazzle.  Steamy, sultry and sexy – this tour of Chicago showed the show’s brilliance by stripping the production back to its bare bones, with a fabulous band on stage, minimal costuming and a few chairs. As an audience member, you get a chance to hear Kander and Ebb’s glorious score and to get the essence of Bob Fosse’s incredible choreography.

Telling the story of how Roxie Hart gets away with murder with the help of slick lawyer Billy Flynn. Her time in prison with the notorious Velma Kelly, duping her ever loving husband Amos and being good to Mama Morton while in Prison. It is based on a true story from the 1920’s.

With three of the principal characters played by people previously in soap operas this seems like stunt casting. Using the past characterisations of the actors to fill the seats rather than relying on the musical itself to fill theatres.  But soap actors they may have been – musical star performers there are now

Sophie Carmen-Jones shows her abilities well with a wonderful version of Velma Kelly, singing All That Jazz with vocals that are thrilling and simply wild, sexy and breathtaking, stealing every scene she is in. Until Roxie establishes herself, Velma is the big shot amongst the female felons – bitchily bossy and breathtakingly balletic. Her legs go on for ever and teach us that perpendicular is somewhere else.

Billy Flynn is the slick, consummately devious lawyer who uses the old ‘razzle-dazzle’ of sheer showmanship to wow a gullible media and promote the causes of his various- usually culpable- clients. From the first moment he appears, satirically framed by a circlet of feather boas, Flynn is at the centre of the action and you need a performer of strong presence – and persuasive charm- to carry off the role. John Partridge oozes panache and has a rich, smooth voice that perfectly fits the character’s synthetic sincerity.

Surprise of the night for me was Jessie Wallace’s powerhouse performance of prison Matron (Mama) Morton who takes a cut from every known exploitation, except the crime of murder which epitomises the wrongdoing of every bird of passion in her latter-day Alcatraz.  Wallace seemed to be channelling the late Pat Phoenix in appearance but wow, what a phenomenal voice

Roxie is a role you’d kill for – and she does – kill I mean – in the opening scene. Hayley Tamaddon proved she can sing and dance her way through the role but while Roxie is devious using people as she needs them, Tamaddon comes across as too nice and it’s hard to take her role seriously.However, she still impresses and shows great skill and talent.

Neil Ditt is fabulous as Amos Hart and is definitely the most sympathetic character on stage.  Pathetically pleasing and deserving of her love and ours, but he is, as he explains in the lyrically strong song Mister Cellophane, an easy figure to ignore. When he is finally forced to admit Roxie’s treachery and asks for his exit music, he has to walk off in total silence. Hard on a man.

This is without doubt one of the hottest shows. It is a breathtaking musical extravaganza that is simply brilliant. It has some catchy and wonderful songs, like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Razzle Dazzle’, ‘Class’, ‘All I Care About’ and the wonderful ‘Mister Cellophane’. It has superb dance routines that are original and exciting.The dancing is as impressive, as the excellent band. Leon Charles conducts with precision and unmistakable skill, and the band seems to enjoy themselves.  In short, it’s the sweetest, funniest, sexiest murder story ever.

In Leeds until Saturday 26 November and on tour around the UK