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Chicago, Phoenix Theatre

Published by: Douglas McFarlane on 28th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Douglas McFarlane



You’ll have seen Chicago before most likely. It’s now in it’s 43rd year and I’d seen it quite a few times over this period.  I was wondering whether I would still enjoy it as much. Not since Ruthie Henshall performed as Roxy, has the female leads role been advertised as ‘starring’. I’ve seen the Billy Flynn role being plugged with Darius Danesh, the former Xfactor Scot, Marti Pellow, the former Wet Wet Wet Scot, and this time it wasn’t a Scot but American film star Cuba Gooding Jr.

It has been over 5 years since Chicago was in London, and its now taken over the excellent Phoenix Theatre where I saw Blood Brothers performed for many years. Next door is an excellent pre-theatre restaurant which was part of the former stage dressing area where Noel Coward & Laurence Olivier would have frequented. The Phoenix Theatre opened in 1930 with the premiere of Noel Coward's Private Lives featuring Coward himself in the cast along with a young Laurence Olivier.

With an impressive theatre, I had high hopes and there were a few surprises in the cast which were to transform the musical for me. It literally turned from a sexy show to entertain audiences looking for a great night out, to being recognised as a classic in my eyes.

What made the change ?

Well, Cuba Gooding Jr was excellent in the role, fitting the shady but dapper Chicago lawyer perfectly. His  subtle humour was evident all the way through and you couldn’t help smile at his performance. His dance routines were a delight and flirting with the dance girls with feathers the best I’ve seen.

No, it wasn’t just Cuba which made the big change. It wasn’t Ruthie Henshall either. It was a delight to see her in the ‘Mamma’ role, given that she made the original Roxy her own in the show’s revival in 1997. However, she’s a diminutive character and I prefer my ‘Mamma’s’ to have stature, a big presence and a belting voice.

It wasn’t AD Richardson either, back as Mary Sunshine, who always surprises audiences with ‘wait, what ?’ In her ‘reveal’ scene.  

It was a little known Belgian actress who stole the show for me. Sarah Soetaert is her name and you will be hearing a lot more about her in the future. From the moment she appeared to the end of the show, she had my attention. Her tone of voice, her 1930s styling, blonde curly locks, big smile and infectious character turned this show into a classic. The entire audience were bought into it. At times, I was realising why actors are sometimes called artists. This was an artistic performance. It raised the bar in the role to the point of making the show understandable and realistic, if that’s possible.

I’ll go and see Chicago again when she’s performing. She makes you laugh and have an inner warmth and great feeling when you leave the show at the end. The smile on everyone’s faces on leaving was evident, young and old, and it’s great to see a classic get off the ground again for a long run in it’s new theatre venue.

Review by Douglas McFarlane


Chicago is on at the Phoenix Theatre in London for the foreseeable future.



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