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.