Chicago

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Chicago has been wowing audiences since it opened on Broadway in 1975. On the basis of tonight’s performance, it’s easy to see how this became such a musical theatre juggernaut.

For this is a tale “Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery… all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts”.

Set in 1920’s Chicago, a lawless place, where bootleggers and gangsters run the show. Prohibition is feeding power to the criminal underworld and the only place to get a decent drink and some decent music is in the speakeasy.

Based on the writing of journalist Maurine Watkins, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins began seeing a pattern in the Chicago courts of law, glamorous young women getting away with murder. The bigger celebrity name they made for themself, the more likely they were to be acquitted, no matter how guilty they were!

Chicago focuses on two such women. First is Roxanne Hart (Faye Brookes) a cocktail waitress and wannabe singer accused of murdering he wantaway lover. The second is Velma Kelly (Michelle Andrews) a music hall entertainer in the dock for the slaying of her husband and her sister, who were having an affair.

Both are as guilty sin, but how can they get away with murder, and become the must-see act in town, enter super flash, super slippery lawyer, Billy Flynn (Liam Marcellino), the number one lawyer who knows exactly what jury’s and more importantly the press want to see in order to get these murderous vixens acquitted.

It’s rather timely that Chicago is currently out touring, whilst two of the biggest media circus’s play out over here and across the pond, thus highlighting the shows relevance and bang on point rapier critique of ‘celebrity’.

This slick production is a treat for the senses. Big musical numbers, stunning set pieces and more fun than I was expecting (I’ve never seen the 2002 Oscar winning film adaptation). Faye Brookes puts in a solid comedic if slightly unhinged turn as Hart. Filled with great little comedic asides, facial expressions and a flirty innocent charm, she is in fine form. Her work on the songs Roxie and Me and My Baby is highly impressive

Also in fine form is Michelle Andrews as Velma Kelly. Andrews gives a sassy, spikey performance, a commanding stage presence throughout; she more than delivers and gives no indication that she was stepping into the role as an understudy.

The show boasts an incredible wealth of supporting talent: Sheila Fergurson looks like she’s having a ball as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, and as you would expect her voice is top of the class. In addition, there is a great comedic turn from Jamie Baughan as Roxanne’s sap of a husband, Amos. His work on the comedic number Mister Cellophane, very much nearly steals the show.

Whilst Liam Marcllino is a treat as the oily, Billy Flynn. His performance of All I Care About brings in some big laughs. The whole cast works so hard throughout for what is a physically demanding show.

Performed very much in the Vaudeville tradition of theatre, we have characters and show numbers introduced by the cast, we see the cast members waiting in the wings, whilst the orchestra takes centre stage, even musical director Andrew Hilton, has a more prominent role than one might expect.

There are stunning set pieces in the form of more familiar numbers such opener All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle with all the glitz and glamour you would expect from a production of this standard

This sexy, sultry, super smart production is a perfect example of how life imitates art and demonstrates why this is one of the most cherished musicals around.

Chicago is on at the Manchester Opera House 28th May 2022

Tickets available here.

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We’ve all heard of opening night disasters when it comes to the theatre, from forgotten lines to sickly cast members, I’m certain actors and directors will have their fair share of horror stories. However, I’m sure none will match having their leading lady bumped off during the final curtain!

This is the premise for musical whodunit,  Curtains. This Tony Awarding winning  production is from the song writing duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, who  also wrote Chicago and Cabaret.

Set in 1950’s Boston we are backstage on the set oftroubled Broadway hopeful  Robbin Hood.  Leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is murdered on opening night and, due to her rather shambolic performance, everyone is a suspect. Luckily, Boston’s finest, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who happens to be a theatre super-fan, is on hand to crack the case.

Placing the theatre on lock down, Cioffi begins to work his way through the list of suspects that include estranged couple and writing partners Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba). Then there are show producers Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and shady Sidney Bernstein (Mark Sangster) and flamboyant director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). In addition, we have ambitious rising stars, Bambi Barnét (Emma Caffrey) and Niki Harris (Leah West), with the latter catching the eye of Lieutenant Cioffi. Everyone is a suspect with cast and crew beginning to drop like flies, can Cioffi catch the killer and save the show?

On the surface, this is a classic murder mystery, very much in the Agatha Christie mould, but on the other hand this is both a love letter to, and a critique of showbusiness, in particular the  theatre. 

There are caricatures aplenty from over-the-top directors, to ruthless money grabbing producers and mean-spirited critiques. Despite a few minor issues, this is an enjoyable, entertaining romp, filled with neat one liners, catchy tunes and some plot red herrings that will keep you engaged throughout.

The cast are at the top of their game, Jason Manford is a likeable leading man, whose comic timing is matched perfectly with a fine singing voice. Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba are also on good form as the warring writing partnership, with Stenson really given the opportunity to flex her vocal cords. There are scene stealing turns from Rebecca Lock and Samuel Holmes who between them get the lions share of the best lines and certainly make the most of them.

They are supported buy an exceptionally hard working cast who put in tremendous effort throughout which are exemplified in the company numbers The Women’s Dead, He Did It, and In the Same Boat III, which are the undoubted highlights of the show, and showcase Paul Foster’s exceptional direction and Alistair David’s intricate choreography.

The production is not without flaws; it’s a bit flabby in parts and there seems to be a bit of filler, it doesn’t quite hold your attention throughout its entire running time, in fairness the show gets off to such an intriguing start that it would be difficult to maintain that level of interest throughout. 

On the whole this is an entertaining, clever, production packed with solid performances, great tunes and some fantastic set pieces, which despite its darkly comic narrative has a heart of gold at its core and is a slice of fun, feel-good musical theatre!

Curtains is on the Place Theatre till 12th October tickets available here.