Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

Review – Drunk – McOnie Company at Bridewell Theater

February 10, 2014

Certain combinations of things set off my reviewer radar. New show, new space … is it a pre-West End run or a bad idea about to die? Given the miserable weather, a “musical dance revue” on the theme of liquor still inspired me to go and hope for the best. It helped that “Drunk” was choreographed by Drew McOnie, who proved pretty comprehensively in the Leicester Curve’s Chicago that he knows how to make people move across a stage in interesting ways. And on paper, the cast list looked surprisingly good – dancers from Matthew Bourne, A Chorus Line, really proven talent and very high in the UK scene … and even Gemma Sutton, the Roxie for McOnie’s Chicago. In some ways, the ingredients for success all seemed ready and waiting … rather like a top shelf tequila, a slice of lime, and a salt shaker sitting on the bar of a taqueria. Lick it, slam it, suck it, I thought!

As it turned out, Drunk overdelivered on its promise, with the eight performers positively burning up the floor in a series of numbers loosely structured by Gemma Sutton’s character’s trials (and memories) as she sits in a bar waiting for her date of the evening to show up. This sparked in her the questions, “What do I order? What kind of impression to I want to create?” but dramatically speaking her musings were simply there to tie together a variety of great dance pieces (and occasional songs) that incorporate ballroom, Broadway, acrobatics, mime (oh the polo ponies and rowing crew of Pimms, TOO funny!) and story telling in a entertaining and engrossing way.

As a dance fan, the moves were great, and even more intense given the intimate nature of the Bridewell Theater (I’m guessing it holds 150 people – though the sightlines meant that performers’ feet, and sometimes their bodies, slipped from view). However, as a musical theater fan, I loved how well the story telling took place – from pure comedy (“Fosters,” I believe, the tale of an Australian who failed at computin’ when it wasn’t about rootin’) to heartbreaking tragedy (“Scotch and Run”).

All of this was done to a very big band sound, thanks to a trumpet and sax (in addition to piano, drums and bass), which gave it a real classical musical feel. But best of all was the really top performers that had been recruited in to this show. The producers splashed out on real talent, and you could feel it, see it, all but taste it in your mouth. This wasn’t a workshop of a maybe show – this was a deep pockets investment in something really good that ought to be going places.

It all ended about ninety minutes after it began without once wearing out its welcome. With no snazzy new musicals on stage right now, fans of the form ought to get themselves to the Bridewell tout suite – Drunk is unlikely to stay long in its intimate venue with performances this big. Make mine a double!

(This review, which ran in a version in The Public Reviews, is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 6th, 2014. It continues through Saturday, March 1st. )

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Review – Chicago – Leicester Curve

January 4, 2014

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.)