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Chicago @ The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 11th-16th July 2016

Published by: Yvonne Delahaye on 12th Jul 2016 | View all blogs by Yvonne Delahaye

In the 1920s Chicago was run by gangsters, making huge amounts of money out of illegal alcohol, gambling, prostitution and extortion. This was the era of the Prohibition Law, where mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio frequented nightclubs and enjoyed the company of jazz musicians.  Set against this lawless background, a junior reporter on the Chicago Tribune was assigned to cover the trials of women accused of murder.  Maureen Watkins interviewed the most glamorous women and soon transformed criminals into stars.  Two women in particular caught her attention, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner and it was their stories that she wrote about, which raised public sympathy leading to them both being acquitted and literally getting away with murder! 

In 1926, Watkins turned their stories into a play, so Beulah Annan became Roxie Hart and Belva Gaertner became Velma Kelly.  Their flamboyant attorney W W O’Brien was transformed into Billy Flynn.  The play was described as ‘the finest piece of stage satire ever written by an American’ and was turned into a film with Ginger Rogers, before John Kander and Fred Ebb created the 1975 musical we enjoy today.  Co-author Bob Fosse choreographed the original show and his style is tightly emulated wherever it’s performed around the world.

The original Broadway production opened in 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre and ran for 936 performances until 1977. Bob Fosse choreographed the original production, and his style is strongly identified with the show. Following a West End debut in 1979 which ran for 600 performances, Chicago was revived on Broadway in 1996, and a year later in the West End running for 15 years, making it the longest running American musical. The Academy Award-winning 2002 film version of the musical was directed by Rob Marshall and starred Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah.

When I was in my first year at drama school we stage managed the second year’s production of Chicago, which we also took on tour.  The two leading ladies both went on to successful West End careers and I loved the storyline, vibrancy and catchy songs.  Our production was a colourful affair with glitter curtains and sequins, so when I saw the West End production some years later I was disappointed to see how black and grey everything was.  Of course, it was slick and stylish, but I felt it had lost some of its humour and warmth.  I’m pleased to say that this touring production has got both in bucketloads!

Hayley Tamaddon is wonderful as Roxie Hart and radiates energy with a smile that lights up the whole theatre.  She proves herself to be a brilliant ‘triple threat’ and not just a soap actress, renowned for her roles in Coronation Street and Emmerdale.  Roxie’s arch enemy, Velma Kelly is played by Sophie Carmen-Jones.  Former Eastenders actor, John Partridge, makes the most of his role as the corrupt attorney Billy Flynn.

Returning to play the role of Mama Morton is Gina Murray, who played her in the West End and recently on a tour of China.  She has a terrific voice and gives a very solid performance as the prison guard who takes care of all the girls. Cuckolded husband, Amos Hart, is played with just the right amount of pathos and subtlety by Neil Ditt.  Journalist Mary Sunshine (A D Richardson) almost shatters the lights with the strength of her vibrato and I could feel my eardrums quivering.  What an astonishing voice!

Of course it’s the songs that make this show so memorable, All That Jazz, Funny Honey, Cell Block Tango, We Both Reached for the Gun, Mister Cellophane, Razzle Dazzle and Nowadays being some of the best known. 

This truly is a brilliantly stylish show and one that can be enjoyed over and over again, so go on... paint the town and all that jazzzzzzz.

Chicago is at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury until Saturday 16th and continues its tour to Liverpool, Glasgow, Woking, Sunderland and Birmingham.  Full tour dates and booking details on http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/chicago-the-musical/

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye
11.7.16

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