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Chicago: split between being a great musical but only a good show…

Written by on October 8, 2021

Fantastic music. Check. Fantastic dancing. Check. Fantastic costuming. Check. But…

Tickets for tonight and tomorrow [Friday 8 and Saturday 9 Oct] here:

And this is where I feel harsh in commenting on the fact, that for both myself and my other half, it didn’t ‘gel’. Now, how to explain without criticising any of the excellence that is apparent in this show…

It lacked ‘depth’. A lack of actual physical depth which prevented an audience, at times, emotionally engaging with the performances of the entire cast. The characters has no ‘space’ to move about in fully, making their asides and their actions all one level, not the complexities that this show can have. The objectification of all of the physically fit actors appeared flat as a result, making one of the major points of the show – the manipulation of juries by physical attraction – lost in translation. Why?

The minimal stage design of John Lee Beatty was too heavily dominated by a band which, made sense to be present in the starting cabaret setting but then confusedly stayed on stage for the whole duration of the show. This made the entire show feel like an ensemble of songs and dance routines being put on to entertain akin to a vaudeville, the desired careers of the protagonists Roxie Hart [Faye Brookes] and Velma Kelly [Michelle Andrews], and not narrating their actual story. And as such, Brookes and Andrews were confined to being two people deep throughout the entire show, with dancing numbers, at times, having to elevate themselves to gain any narrative depth, detracting from both them and the talented ensemble. Andrews shone more though of the two, with her physical movement, singing and characterisation throughout – made even more impressive with the fact she is an understudy.

A shame then of as, with a little tweaking, an awareness of sound levels not dominating the singing and with some of the speaking roles being more patient for the audience to stop applauding, this could be a great musical and great show. The singing, the late Ann Reinking’s choreographic vision and William Ivey Long’s costumes are a true delight and, perhaps, it is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ and I am wrong. Right now though, the band’s part dominates too much and confuses the addition of their presence on stage, with the forced characterisation of the ‘maestro’ making it more holiday camp than high-end appeal.

Perhaps this was the aim though, to present a musical and not a narrative. It didn’t deter the enjoyment of the full house at the ever welcoming Royal and Derngate: the audience enjoyed every song, every dance number and every joke thrown out to them. But the band kept getting visually in the way for us: we were watching a moving piece about an innocent woman being sentenced to death and then – [cue band with discordant music] unwanted distraction. You don’t get to pause in this show because of the band. The narrative is rushed fast, too fast at times, and this is a detriment to all the excellent work that everyone has put into this show.

There also needed to be some more ‘sass’ and ‘sleaze’ from the two main manipulators of the inmates, ‘Mama’ Morton [Sinitta Malone] and Billy Flynn [Darren Day]. It was hard to believe that here were two characters who would sell their own children’s teeth to the tooth fairy for profit. They could both sing but needed to blast it out and own the stage rather than play it safe. Malone didn’t command those around her, choosing to have real compassion at times than the fickle ‘love’ that ‘Big Mama’ should claim to have for those around her and the aside that Day gives the audience in claiming he does it for ‘love’ needed to disgust the audience more – we cared at times for him rather than have any cynicism for the ‘law’ of the real corrupt Chicago he represents Chicago looks great, sounds great and entertains – making it a great musical that will entertain. For myself though, I perhaps am spoiled by other interpretations that have focused on telling the story as well. Go and see it though as the calibre of all the ensemble is worth it alone.

The reviewer and other half are split about whether it was good or great…

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