Most of my reviews are done for people who may not know a lot about a particular show. They just want to know if a show is good or not, and if it’s going to give them good value on the money. I’m warning you in advance, though, this review, for Chicago as done at the Leicester Curve, is not that kind of review. I’m kind of obsessed with Chicago. If you’re not, just read the first paragraph or two (spoiler alert: YES, it’s worth the money, but don’t take a seven year old, please, as the many vigorous scenes of people humping and being murdered are not really kiddie friendly). But what I want to do here is dissect what’s good and what’s not about this show, to place it in the pantheon of Chicago productions.
As a unit, as a show, this fresh new production is a lovely change on the very dated revival (1996) that was on the West End until September 2012. Transparent stocking material body suits with bras and undies on display and an emphasis on red-hot bodies in the cast – it was as stuck in its time as a Nagel print. Fortunately, the sexiness is still fully intact, but the cast is clad in champagne and gold … though they still seem to be frequently wearing very little (that said, with a bum like Zizi Strallen, granny pants are a sin).
Now, one of the biggest complaints I’ve had about the ever-changing cast of the revival is that they used the excuse of the stars being a 1) washed up cabaret singer 2) a failed chorine 3) a guy with two easy to sing numbers (“All I Care About” and “Razzle Dazzle”) to put a bunch of second rate celebrities in the show in a desperate attempt to lure in punters. Ooh ooh, Brooke Shields on stage, but SERIOUSLY, Roxie, Velma, and Billy are GREAT parts that flourish with GREAT actors in the roles. And finally, in this show, I got to see a performance in which excellence was the criterion by which performers were picked: long legged and pouty Verity Rushworth as Velma; short, sassy, and “voice of champions” Gemma Sutton as Roxie; seamless strutter David Leonard as greasy charmer Billy Flynn. I don’t need to make excuses about getting asses in seats when explaining the shortcomings of the Curve’s cast; they didn’t have them, really. Yeah, Velma’s wig was dowdy (and Roxie’s was just not right for the era at all), absolutely nobody could pronounce Amos correctly (it’s not “a moss,” people), and … um …
IT WAS JUST AWESOME PEOPLE LOOK HERE I AM DIGGING FOR THINGS TO COMPLAIN ABOUT. And instead I got a production that, unlike the movie, included the cut songs: “Me and My Baby,” “Class,” “I Am My Own Best Friend” (which, performed as a window into the selfish hearts of Velma and Roxie, was just great). “Me and My Baby” had guys dancing around in diapers on stage – hysterical – and listening to Mama and Velma complain about people’s lack of class while they drank hootch out of a bottle, hung out of their tops and swore like sailors was just MMMM tasty. (I have to praise Sandra Marvin’s performance of “When You’re Good To Mama” – although I found her corset a bit precarious, she took on the song and added flourishes to it that had to have the whole audience going, “Wow, we have got some bad-assed singing talent on stage.” )
But WOW the big scenes – the opening number (“Chicago”) with the big backing cast swirling around in kind of torn pinky-tan outfits (I thought maybe they were just going to rip off the style of the other produvction’s costumes but this turned out not to be the case), miming fornication and showing off their great bodies while Roxie shot, er, whazzisface, had JOLTS of energy and firmly set the production in an era when moral codes have been shattered. Then the final number, Roxie and Velma singing together (thanking Chicago for making them what they are – famous and employed simply for the virtue of being celebrities – very appropriate still in this celebrity-obsessed culture) in beaded champagne dresses, showing their lack of skill or friendship (while we know both Sutton and Rushworth are great – we’ve been watching them all night!), finally surrounded by dancers in shimmering, giant gold sequins that fluttered like coins waving in the air – a paean to money and sex.
But my favorite was the delicious “Razzle Dazzle” scene, in which the dancers come on stage as circus performers, in outfits made of crazy straps and shiny things, doing fun stunts with ropes and acrobatics while slowly driving home the point that the trial is a show, not a cold analysis of the facts. The dancers stay on stage for Roxie and Amos’ interrogations, keeping the whole thing unreal and electric.
In short: it was worth the cost of my train ticket AND my second row seat. It was great. If you love Kander and Ebb, Chicago, or excellent musicals given the attention they deserve and served up at a reasonable price, I highly advise you to make the trip to Leicester.
(This review is for the matinee performance of December 31st, 2013. It continues through January 18th. If anyone can get me recordings of the original Broadway performance – not the music but the visuals – I’d really appreciate it as what I’ve heard about it makes it sound amazing.)