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Brisbane review – Chicago: nothing short of sensational

By David Wilson

 

Chicago

Based on the play by Maureen Dallas Watkin

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Music by John Kander       

Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse

International Choreography by Gary Christ

International Direction by Tania Nardini

Now playing till 4 Feb 2024 at Lyric Theatre QPAC

Tickets from $69.90. Bookings: https://chicagomusical.com.au




 

Chicago is “a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery ... all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts”. Set in the Jazz era Chicago in the 1920s, based on the 1967 book, with original choreography and staging by the legendary Bob Fosse, Chicago is Broadway’s longest running musical for a reason.

This production, by the international creative team of Tania Nardini and Gary Chryst, is nothing short of sensational.

The musical is based on an original play written by Maureen Dallas Whatkins, a junior reporter assigned to cover the trials of more than a dozen women on ‘murderess row’, each with a story to tell. At the time, the public and press became fascinated by a number of high profile cases which involved attractive women killing their husband or lover. The public seemingly could not get enough of the sensational newspaper columns which chronicled the cases, with public sentiment for the accused based largely on the portrayal by the press.

Chicago brilliantly captures the feeling and mood of the times, showcasing in equal parts the shiny jazz era glamour and the shady prohibition era danger. It also cleverly comments on the insincerity of the American Dream and the fleeting fickleness of fame.

Chicago cleverly tells the story of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two celebrity murderesses who would stop at nothing to achieve fame, fortune and freedom. Against the backdrop of the iconic “All That Jazz” (performed perfectly by Zoe Ventoura), Roxie (Lucy Maunder) kills her lover who is trying to break off their affair and convinces her hapless husband Amos (Peter Rowsthorn) to take the fall by tricking him into thinking she was the victim of a burglary gone wrong. Once Amos discovers Roxie’s deceit he tells the truth, leading Roxie to confess.

Once arrested, Roxie is sent to ‘murderess row’ where she meets Velma and a number of other women accused of killing their lovers. Each recount their tale in the brilliantly done “Cell Block Tango”, perhaps my favourite number in the performance. The block is presided over by Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Asabi Goodman), who’s “When You’re Good To Mama” perfectly captured the transactional insincerity of the day.

Mama arranges for slick, high profile lawyer Billy Flynn (Anthony Warlow) to take Roxie's case, much to the disappointment of Velma who fears she will drop out of the news cycle. Warlow’s performance of Billy Flynn’s signature song “All I Care About” was brilliant.

Once Billy realises Roxie and Amos do not have sufficient money to pay his fee, to make up the difference he manipulates the press by using a sympathetic journalist Mary Sunshine (S Valeri) to create a media circus. The press conference scene, in which Billy Flynn and Roxie perform a ventriloquist act version of “We Both Reached For The Gun” was a standout.

With Roxie now dominating the headlines, Velma attempts desperately to take advantage by suggesting a sister act, with Ventoura expertly capturing the Vaudevillian atmosphere in “I Can’t Do It Alone”. However just as Roxie turns Velma down, another crime of passion is committed which takes over the headlines. Desperate to recapture the spotlight, Roxie fakes a pregnancy, with Maunder’s “Me and My Baby” a treat.

Billy Flynn uses the fake pregnancy to increase sympathy for Roxie by further manipulating Amos, leading to the absolutely brilliant performance by Rowsthorn of “Mr Cellophane”, an audience favourite.

At Roxie’s trial, Billy uses all his tricks and “Razzle Dazzle” to get Roxie acquitted, however just as Roxie is found not guilty, another sensational crime of passion is committed and Roxie realises how fickle fame can be and that, like Velma, she has been relegated to yesterday’s news.

By any measure, the opening night performance of Chicago was absolutely first class. The orchestra was magnificent, appropriately showcased on stage as the centrepiece of the show. The lead performers were all outstanding - Ventoura in particular conquered the iconic “All That Jazz” in her stride, setting the tone for a truly marvellous show. The extremely talented ensemble were to a person excellent, with dancing of the highest calibre. The set, stage, lighting and costumes all worked seamlessly to create a mesmerising 1920s jazz era Chicago, a credit to the production team.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chicago and I encourage you to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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