Over the years Chicago has built up a reputation for being a musical where you get a least one celeb name playing a lead role. It tends to be a former Strictly Come Dancing contestant or reality show winner. The current UK tour, which has stopped at Manchester’s Opera House guarantees the usual ‘Razzle Dazzle’ with a starry line-up that includes Eastenders’ John Partridge (Billy Flynn), former Coronation Street’s Hayley Tamaddon (Roxie Hart), and X Factor winner Sam Bailey (Mama Morton).
The trio put on a great show with Tamaddon looking like she has found the perfect role in Roxie. The pint sized performer bursts with energy throughout and injects mischief and comedy into the part. Bailey is also a hit with the audience and looks at home on stage belting out numbers like When You’re Good to Mama and Class with ease.
Following in the footsteps of Richard Gere, David Hasselhoff and Jerry Springer, Partridge has a tough act to follow when it comes to playing Billy Flynn but his back log of musical credentials (from Cats to Miss Saigon) proves the part is in a safe pair of hands. Partridge is the epitome of the suave lawyer who uses his charm to get murderers off the hook.
Set in the 1920s the hit musical centres around a jail full of females locked up for their crimes of passions (you could call it an early Orange Is The New Black – without music). Roxie Hart is the latest inmate, having shot her lover dead, and she’s determined to be found not guilty when she goes to trial. Along the way she meets fellow prisoners including a vaudeville entertainer called Velma, mobster ‘Mama’ Morton who rules the roost, and hot shot lawyer Billy Flynn who everyone wants to represent them. As relevant today as it was when it was wrote by Kander and Webb in 1975 the show covers themes of celebrity, obsessions with fame and how notoriety can often get you away with murder.
Since it’s revival in 1996, crowds have flocked to see Chicago and it’s even had a Hollywood movie made of it, so it’s no surprise that this tour is a popular one. On the night I saw it the house was jam-packed, including stars from Coronation Street and Dancing on Ice showing their support for Tamaddon.
For me though the name on everybody’s lips after this show will be Sophie Carmen-Jones who wows as Velma Kelly. From the moment she steps out onstage to sing All That Jazz until her final number, she dances and sings her heart out, showing as Roxie says ‘murder is an art’. Elsewhere Gary Chryst’s recreation of Bob Fosse’s original choreography sizzles with a number of slow sexual moves and the scantily clad costumes by William Ivy Long are guaranteed to get you a little hot under the collar.
A show like this doesn’t need grand sets to impress so if you are expecting to see a full sized prison and court of law then you will be disappointed. Minimalism is key and the only piece of furniture the performers have to work with are cabaret style chairs. Instead the staging has the orchestra as the main focuses who, instead of being hidden in the usual pit below, are onstage in full view and become part of the show.
Watch out for show-stopping moments such as Cell Block Tango – a slick routine carried out by six feisty femme fatales and the final trial sequence which is an energetic joy to watch.
Runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 2nd April 2016.