Chicago The Musical

by | Mar 28, 2024

Review by Bronwyn Cook

Chicago. The 1920s. The Jazz Age. The dawn of the “celebrity criminal” – where the crime (and justice) itself is overshadowed by glitz, glamour and a good story.

 

Sound familiar?

 

A century later, the key themes of “Chicago: The Musical” are just as current now as they were then – especially the role of the media, corruption and pursuing fame at any cost.

From a 1926 play, to the 1975 stage version – reimagined in 1996 to it’s current format (of which the current Broadway production is the longest-running show) to an Academy award winning movie, this Australian tour is the fifth time audiences have been razzle dazzled, with previous Australian productions in 1981, 1998, 2009 and 2019.

 

For those perhaps unfamiliar with the show – the premise is simple. It’s a tale about some of the female inmates of Cook County jail – the misadventures that landed them in the establishment and the stories they spin to get themselves out (without hanging).

From Queen Bee Velma Kelly to not-so-innocent Roxy Hart and several other merry murderesses governed by Matron “Mama” Morton they weave their deceitful ballads of woe and misery to anyone who will listen – reporters, lawyers, Joe Public. And if they happen to make the front page of the newspaper…even better. Men are simply means to end for these women – either as alibis, victims or saviours.

What I’ve always enjoyed about this 1996 iteration of the show is its simplicity. There are no elaborate sets or costumes to hide behind. The 14 piece band, on-stage on tiered cabaret club styled platforms, are the biggest set piece. Most of the cast is in the same costume the entire show, with minimal changes for Kelly and Hart. Black is the wardrobe theme, as black as the hearts of the Cook County inmates.

 

This simplicity and intimacy demands a top-rate cast, and just like the previous tours, the 2023/2024 Australian cast is exactly that. Full of class, sass and all that jazz.

Whilst most people may think of Zoë Ventoura as Mel Rafter (Packed to the Rafters), she showed she is just as comfortable on the stage as she is on screen. This was my first time seeing Ventoura in any production, she brought a wonderful sarcastic sneer to Velma Kelly and blew the dance socks off “I Can’t Do It Alone”.

 

Bringing the absolute comedic chops to Roxy Hart is stage veteran Lucy Maunder, in a role that she absolutely shines in. Putting aside her singing, acting and dancing talents, her facial expressions alone – especially during “We Both Reached for the Gun” – are worth the price of admission.

As Amos Hart, Roxy’s gullible but lovable husband, Peter Rowsthorn nearly runs away with the show. His “Mr. Cellophane” bought the house down opening night and perfectly exemplified Amos’s character.

It is quite simply always a joy and immense pleasure to see musical theatre royalty Anthony Warlow in any role, especially one as perfect for him as slick, slimy, sophisticated, shyster extraordinaire Billy Flynn. Warlow is the pure definition of “Razzle Dazzle”!

 

Asabi Goodman as “Mama” Morton and S. Valeri as reporter Mary Sunshine round out the stellar principal cast and they are both equal parts divine and devilish in their roles.

Chicago is nothing without an exceptional ensemble, as they are on-stage basically the entire show and play an essential part of the storyline, delivering the iconic Bob Fosse choreography and Fred Ebb lyrics with all the panache, POP and style in the world.

Ensemble cast member Devon Braithwaite deserves a special mention for his character portrayal of idiotic Fred Casely, whose death starts the show off. Braithwaite also anchors several key scenes, with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye.

 

It could be very easy to dismiss Chicago with a wave of the hand saying “seen it already”, but you’d be missing out. This is one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in this production and there is a reason why globally the show has been seen by 32 million people – it’s just that good.

Now Tango out of your Cell Block to Her Majesty’s Theatre, showing until 26th May 2024 before moving to Sydney.

For more information and tickets: https://chicagomusical.com.au/

Images: Jeff Busby

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