Chicago Review

Sunderland Empire – until Saturday 4 June 2022


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.  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 feedback I was told my essay had “Razzle Dazzle

And that is what we had in Sunderland 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

Djalenga Scott 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 forever 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. Lee Mead oozes panache and has a rich, smooth voice that perfectly fits the character’s synthetic sincerity.

There has been some discussions recently over the role of Mamma Morton, with Gemma Collins due to make her debut at Sunderland but having to step away from the role, Brenda Edwards is due to begin the role imminently.  Instead we got Delycia Balgrave stepping up from the ensemble to powerhouse her way through the role.

Jamie Baughan is fabulous as Mr Cellophane, Amos Hart, and is definitely the most sympathetic character on stage.

Roxie is a role you’d kill for – and she does – kill I mean – in the opening scene. Billie Hardy stepping in for Faye Brookes, proved she can sing and dance her way through the role but while Roxie is devious using people as she needs them, Hardy impresses and shows great skill and talent.

The set (John Lee Beatty) is interesting with the band in a nightclub setting in the middle of the stage all the way through the show. The ultra talented ensemble are sat on chairs at the side of the stage, as if in a rehearsal room.Chicago 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 choreography (Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fose) oozes sex appeal with every step and is a joy to watch every step. Andrew Hilton conducts with precision and unmistakable skill, and the band (Joshua Griffith, Tommy Clayden, Mike Collen, Jonathan Mayers, Alan Hase, Simon Crick, Simon Walker, Matt Davies, Rhodri Taylor, Jamie Fathers) seem to enjoy themselves.  In short, it’s the sweetest, funniest, sexiest murder story ever.