REVIEW: Chicago, New Wimbledon Theatre (UK Tour) ✭✭✭✭✭

Chicago UK Tour 2016

Sophie Carmen-Jones and Ensemble. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

New Wimbledon Theatre
23rd February 2016
5 Stars
UK Tour – Buy Tickets

Having Razzle Dazzled the UK for years Chicago is back on tour around the UK, and this current production is set to remind us why this incredible score by John Kander and Fred Ebb is considered a classic of its time.

Set in prohibition-era Chicago (1920’s), the musical is based on a play by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, and loosely based on the crimes she covered for her paper.

When it originally opened on Broadway, the show ran for a respectable 936 performances, it was only when revived in 1996, that the show proved to be a massive hit – Chicago had come of age and this story of greed, corruption celebrity criminals and trial by media took the world by storm. The West End revival ran for nearly 15 years, becoming the longest-running American musical in West End History, and Chicago continues to run on Broadway, making it the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, and the second longest-running show in Broadway history, behind only The Phantom of the Opera.

The revival of Chicago showed the show’s brilliance by stripping the production back to its bare bones, with band on stage, minimal costuming and a few chairs. As an audience member, you get a chance to hear Kander and Ebb’s glorious score and to get the essence of Bob Fosse’s incredible choreography.

Chicago UK Tour 2016

Hayley Tamaddon John Partridge and Ensemble. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

It’s Fosse’s choreographic style, bought to the stage here Ann Reinking that really shines. This exceptional ensemble of performers moves with grace, glidng across a bare stage as a single unit breaking into individual characters to express an array of emotion as required. A shoulder shrug, the tilt of a hat or something as small as a finger gesture all have seismic force whether it’s performed as a duo, a trio or as an ensemble.

In the current tour, Sophie Carmen-Jones plays Velma Kelly, the tough performer awaiting trial for the murder of her sister and husband. Carmen-Jones delivers a near perfect Velma, confident, self-assured but still vulnerable beneath layers of bravado.

Hayley Tamaddon shines as Roxie Hart. Tamaddon brings out a lot more of the inherent comedy in Roxie than I have seen before. Perfectly disciplined, there are Fanny Brice moments to her performance, where Roxie really comes into her own.

Together these two women are perfectly matched. When they come together for the Hot Honey Rag at the end of the show they are in synch, perfection in every way.

Chicago UK Tour 2016

John Partridge and Ensemble. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

The slick, snake-oil selling lawyer Billy Flynn is played by John Partridge. Uninterested in innocence or guilt, but driven only by his $5000 fee, he flits between murderesses, interested only in his own fame. It’s a confident, assured performance. With Partridge and Carmen-Jones, the Press Conference Rag bristled and burst of the stage.

X Factor winner Sam Bailey plays Mama Morton, the Matron of the Cook County Jail. More facilitator than warden, she acts as agent to her charges, helping to make currency from their convictions, so to speak. Bailey is a natural in this part. Never over-playing this most corrupt of characters, her confidence is assured but it’s interesting to see the genuine shock at the fate of Hunyak.

A D Richardson is easily the best Mary Sunshine I have ever seen. Each line is imbued with a sense of warmth and care. It’s a role that can be notoriously difficult to sing night after night, but you get the impression that you’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg vocally at the end of the performance.

Roxie’s loving and manipulated husband is played by Neil Ditt. Perfectly pathetic, he is manipulated, used and abused by Roxie and Billy. It’s a wonderful performance and Ditt’s Mr Cellophane shows this bland man striving to explode and be noticed.

Chicago UK Tour 2016

Sam Bailey, Sophie Carmen-Jones and Hayley Tamaddon. Photo: Catherine Ashmore

There are some standout performances in the ensemble for this production of Chicago. Francis Foreman makes for a brash Fred Casely. His trial scene with Roxie is a triumph. Me and My Baby performed by Hayley Tamaddon, Kerry Spark and Adam Denman, as near to perfect as you could get, and Peter Nash’s Martin, sexy and sleazy in equal measure, make this a sizzling Chicago.

Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini performing The Cell Block Tango are just sublime. This is a master class in what made Fosse, such a powerful theatrical force. At times still, at others full of frantic movement, each of these women perform full force. It’s a complete and utter knock out!

Ben Atkinson’s incredible on stage band raise the roof, and are the icing on the cake for this production. They sizzle through the bigger production numbers and play the Kander and Ebb score as if it were second nature. Musician and music here are one.

Make a point of catching this current tour of Chicago, this sexy, singularly wonderful production is a definite must-see. It’s brassy, bold and magnificent!


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