Phoenix Theatre – until 6 October
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
There isn’t much that’s new in this latest production of perennial favourite Chicago, with the original direction and choreography from the 1997 production being recreated and no major changes to the design. But then, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? This production’s latest cast change, with Alexandra Burke and Duncan James taking on the roles of Roxie Hart and Billy Flynn, is guaranteed to bring in a whole new audience.
Duncan James oozes mercenary charisma as Billy, manipulating the proceedings in a bravura performance – and boy can he sing! Laura Tyrer is a gutsy and snarling Velma and Mazz Murray is a brilliant Mama Morton. Alexandra Burke manages to portray Roxie’s cold hard ambition but sometimes overeggs the pudding with Roxie’s stylised mannerisms, so Roxie’s usual goofy screwball ditziness doesn’t quite come through.
The antics of fame-hungry female murderers and their slippery lawyer as they compete to grab headlines to feed the voracious and ghoulish fascination of the public still has a sharp satirical edge, and this is Kander and Ebb at their very best, with a score that is simply sublime, packed with familiar iconic numbers. The orchestra take centre stage, where they truly belong, receiving some of the loudest cheers of the night for their energetic Entr’acte performance.
The talented company handle the Ann Reinking choreography with sizzling energy, a sea of gyrating hips, kicks and flicks that is mesmerising and moody. The staging is deceptively simple, with Velma and the girls wowing the audience using only wooden chairs in Cell Block Tango. Other standout numbers include We Both Reached for the Gun (showcasing James’ and Burke’s comedy chops brilliantly), Mr Cellophane (Paul Rider winning the audience’s hearts as pathetically loyal Amos) and Hot Honey Rag, using Fosse’s original choreography.
It’s fantastic to have Chicago back in the West End, and this slick and sexy production is still a guaranteed crowd pleaser full of fierce razzle dazzle.