Douglas Mayo reviews iconic musical Chicago now playing at the Phoenix Theatre.
Kander and Ebb’s Chicago is back in the West End and it’s every bit as relevant now as it was when Walter Bobbie and Ann Reinking presented this startling paired down vision of the musical twenty one years ago at New York City Centre’s Encores.
At a time when fake news and phoney celebrity is at its zenith, there were moments throughout this new revival of Chicago at London’s Phoenix Theatre when I found myself laughing uncomfortably. After all this is a show where Billy Flynn, the lawyer representing the system makes the point that he doesn’t care about innocence, only if the potential client has his required $5000 fee. He’s even bullish enough to make the claim that if Christ had come to earth and preached in Chicago and he had been on the case things might have come out differently.
In this production Hollywood star Cuba Gooding Jr makes his musical theatre debut as Flynn. His vocal is a bit weak at times, but what he lacks in that department is more than made up for in sheer chutzpah. Gooding Jr can move that’s for sure, his They Both Reached For The gun is a joy to watch. Pure pizzazz!
Sarah Soetaert (Roxie) and Josefina Gabrielle (Velma) make for a perfect pair of jazz age killers. Playing off each other perfectly, they play every moment comedic moment to perfection. Their Hot Honey Rag a delight.
The diminutive Paul Rider is perfectly cast as Amos Hart. Whilst Ruthie Henshall makes the most of Mama Morton. Having seen Ruthie in ther show’s original London run, I found it slightly disappointing to see such an enormous talent take a lesser role in a show in which she triumphed along with co-star Ute Lemper. The Matron is a great role but I often felt it constrained Henshall’s abilities and whilst she was a clear audience favourite I can’t wait to see her in a show where she can once again show her full potential.
It’s a tribute to Kander and Ebb’s material that Chicago is a show that doesn’t need a big set, or over complicated staging. Using Bob Fosse’s original choreography as inspiration this is a show where the material and the enormously talented cast, not to mention Ian Townsend’s sensational band are enough to present an evening of exceptional entertainment.
There’s not a weak link in this talented ensemble. The six merry murderesses are a delight, Chris Warner Drake’s Casely full of machismo and latent energy, Abramo Ciullo’s Jury is a comic delight, and A D Richardson’s Mary Sunshine hits notes that just shouldn’t be possible. Every routine is tight and it’s an absolute joy to watch.
It’s great to see Chicago back in the West End. It’s certainly a show that enjoy revisiting every now and again and I’m sure that this revival will be a crowd pleaser.