Chicago – The Musical
Susy Brett went along to the second press night of this show. Did it Razzle Dazzle or was she left with some flat notes…read on!
The award-winning musical Chicago is back to razzle dazzle audiences at the Phoenix Theatre for a new West End run.
One of the world’s most famous musicals, Chicago tells the story of aspiring showgirl Roxie (Sarah Soetaert), who shoots her lover dead in a fit of rage. When she’s caught by police, she’s taken to the women’s division at Cook County Jail where she meets fellow murderesses and future rival Velma Kelly (Josefina Gabrielle). Aided by criminal lawyer Billy Flynn (Cuba Gooding Jr.), Roxie re-invents herself to manipulate the press and sway public affection for her case, so she can receive ‘justice’ at trial.
Headlining the posters adorning the Phoenix Theatre is the show’s star, Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr, in his British stage debut as Billy Flynn. What Gooding Jr. lacks in vocal dexterity, he makes up for with pure charisma – offering exactly the right swagger necessary for his position.
The rest of the cast comprises seasoned pros, with the main names all having performed in various productions of Chicago before. Sarah Soetaert has it all as ambitious Roxie Hart, stealing every scene she’s in with the same ease with which her character uses to steal Velma’s spotlight. Josefina Gabrielle is powerful as Velma, while Mama is imbued with a commanding presence by Ruthie Henshall. Perfectly cast is Paul Rider as Roxie’s husband Amos, equal parts a comic and sad character. Rider is not on stage often but takes every opportunity he gets for audience laughter and sympathy.
The most notable thing about Chicago is always its strong song and dance numbers, which the show has in spades, and most are performed solidly here. One could go purely for the musical numbers and feel satisfied, Gooding Jr’s inconsistent vocals aside. The singing and dancing is strong across the board, with an excellent ensemble supporting its vibrant leads. The choreography and direction is faithful to the 1996 revival of the show, making very few changes.
The staging recreates the feel of a 1920s low-lit jazz bar of the type where vaudeville might be performed, later doubling as a courtroom. The lighting emphasises the vibrancy of the colourful characters in the show such as Rosie, Velma and Billy. In addition, the band are always on stage and feel as important as the cast, and their solo performance at the start of act two is one of the show’s highlights.
As with all versions of Chicago that I have seen, it struggles with pacing. The starting few numbers are very strong, meaning the show loses itself somewhere after the half hour mark and one finds themselves checking the time more frequently than they should. The second act is better balanced, with some excellent courtroom scenes. One other complaint I had is the cast and band could stand to be more diverse, as the lack of people of colour across the production is very noticeable.
Is Chicago relevant in 2018? Well, it could be. The line about Velma and Roxie being the perfect example of how beautiful America truly is grabs the biggest laugh of the night. Considering most of its themes are extremely prevalent now, the show could do more to address this. Instead it plays it safe with the 1996 version, missing a mark that might have been sublime.
Chicago is booking now at the Phoenix Theatre until October 6