This sultry jazz musical, full of glint-eyed murderesses and big dance numbers, shot to fame with the 2002 film starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Any touring company will rake in an audience because of the success of Chicago, but will also perform in the shadow of the Oscar-winning film. Unfortunately, this production captured none of the sparkle and sassiness that is such a defining characteristic of the show and remained firmly in the shadow of previous, more successful adaptations.
Hoping to be swept away by the well-known opening number, All That Jazz, I remained uninspired by the lacklustre beginning. The choreography was performed correctly (but this faint praise is all I feel able to offer due to the desperate lack of energy on stage), and Velma Kelly’s (Tupele Dorgu’s) vocals were spot-on, if she seemed to take little pleasure in the performance. Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart had more sass in her performance, lolling sexily off a steel ladder brought on to one side of the stage, and her entrance far outshone that of Dorgu. Bastian in general put her all into the role, and portrayed Roxie with a slightly more wicked twist than I’ve seen in other interpretations, with absolutely no guilt felt towards her maltreated husband Amos, and instead a Machiavellian determination to earn celebrity and fortune.
The Cell Block Tango was the first song to start to convince me that some of the performers actually wanted to be on stage. The female chorus, notably Genevieve Nicole and Claire Rogers, exploited the more comedic moments of their parts with gusto, earning laughter from the audience. The energy raised from the sexy rendition of Cell Block Tango was unfortunately dissipated by the following song, When You’re Good to Mama, performed by Bernie Nolan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. Nolan is no stranger to the UK touring scene, having performed in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, but despite her achingly beautiful singing voice, she had none of the avarice, the double-dealing and the sex appeal that is so important in the role of Mama Morton. Her physicality was static and she looked uncomfortable with some of the more suggestive lyrics, offering an uneasy lean towards the audience with a half-suggestive gesture towards her cleavage. Although I do not doubt the vocal talent of Nolan one bit, I think that the ribald humour and easygoing sexuality of the role didn’t sit easily with her as an actress.
The scenes with Billy Flynn (portrayed suavely by Stefan Booth) were the most reliant on props in this mostly bare touring production. The ensemble girls used luxuriant feather fans (which were accommodated well by the choreography, both encapsulating the seductive style of showgirls and also a humourous slapstick-esque sequence), or small umbrellas to protect them from the rain of glitter floating down from the ceiling. The Billy Flynn scenes were the most glitzy, and really took advantage of the jazzy show numbers and the overall style of the musical. One noticeable aspect of the production was how bare it was – the costumes, hair and make-up were beautifully done, even if there were too many men in leather trousers (can you ever have too many men in leather trousers?), but the staging was simplistic, due, presumably to it being a touring production. Small details like newspapers which were printed only on one side and blank on the other, and an unnecessary proscenium arch that only served to narrow the stage-space, made the performance seem less professional than it should have been. Although the energy did increase over the course of the show, the lifeless beginning is unfortunately the main element to have stuck in my mind, which meant that Chicago just wasn’t as thrilling or sexy as it could have been.