This review also appears in Western Park Gazette.
Chicago is this year’s Christmas cracker of a musical at Curve, described as the dazzling jewel in the flagship theatre’s fifth birthday crown.
The 1976 musical, a sparkling diamond from the long and successful partnership between composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb together with direction and choreography by legendary Bob Fosse, has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity, particularly since the 2002 Oscar-winning film starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones.
Murder, adultery and loose morals form the basis of Chicago, set in the 1920s when corruption was common place and prison cells housed the celebrities of the day. The story focuses on the exploits of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, both incarcerated for murdering their husband and lover respectively. Thanks to the sly working practices of their lawyer Billy Flynn the two ladies play with the press, turning infamy into fame with little regard for who they cross on their way to the front pages.
This show is all about the women and requires strong, sultry and sexy leads. Unfortunately, Velma (a dainty Verity Kelly) and Roxie (Gemma Sutton) didn’t tick those boxes for me but Kelly’s comic timing and playfulness particularly in I Can’t Do It Alone was impressive. Cell Block Tango, one of the show’s more popular numbers and probably the nearest to sexy in the show, is complemented by Philip Gladwell’s stunning lighting adding mood and atmosphere. This was surpassed however, by We Both Reached for the Gun, the stand out number from the whole production and with intriguing paparazzi costumes (by takis).
It’s a shame Mama Morton’s role doesn’t have more to it as When You’re Good to Mama is another show highlight, Sandra Marvin’s powerful, rich voice drawing cheers from the audience. This was her only solo number and it felt like a considerable talent was underused. David Leonard as Billy Flynn is de-rigeur sleazy and all the cast excel with demanding dance routines including eye-watering splits and trademark Fosse poses.
My main issue is with the set; it is a common problem with Curve in that the stage often just seems too big. The wonderful jazz band at the back felt very out of it and the expanse of stage was accentuated by the floor-to-ceiling prison set giving an impression of many empty cells populated by just six girls plus Velma. Production costs dictate the size of cast and chorus however, an underused set just makes this more obvious.
Chicago shines a searchlight on the seedy world of crime and celebrity. The show has a reputation for being dark and dirty yet this production feels more like it is playing for the family audience (apart from two ‘adult’ moments, it is pretty tame). The first Act has all the best tunes but overall it is bright, jolly and sparkly and an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
As for being a jewel in Curve’s birthday crown, I would say the first Act was twenty four carat but the lustre sadly fades by the end.
Chicago is at Curve until 18 January www.curveonline.co.uk
Photos by Pamela Raith Photography