This is a glitzy, bright bold and colourful production slickly staged by the Willoughby Theatre Company (WTC).
The show is a bleak, cynical, world weary look at life murder and corruption in Chicago of the 1920’s and includes audience favourites like All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle.
The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal”.
Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins.
Each number is based on a traditional vaudeville act or performer, making explicit the show’s comparison between “justice”, “show-business”, and contemporary society.
The iconic show has won six Tonys and is one of the longest running shows both on Broadway and in London.
There have been two major productions in Sydney, the landmark Sydney Theatre Company production with Geraldine Turner and Nancey Hayes in 1981, the production in 1999 at the Capitol with Caroline O’Connor and Chelsea Gibb.
What is interesting is the slight changes – the ‘standard’ Fosse choreography is not used, although there are allusions to it, and the WTC seek to out Barnum Barnum and razzle -dazzle us with HUGE production numbers.
There is no fan dance with chorus girls for Billy Flynn’s All care About Is Love– yet the girls appear in other sections of the show, and the sharp, spiky Cell Block Tango has another team of ladies up top on the scaffolding. And why were there three extra Billys and Roxies for We Both Reached For the Gun?!
Rather than have various cast members introduce the assorted numbers in Brechtian style,in this production we have a dapper MC nattily played by Luke Davis.
Andrew Castle lovingly directs with great timing and pacing from the fine ensemble who perform with panache. The orchestra under the baton of Alex Ash was sensational , bringing the infectious score vibrantly to life.
The 1920’s costumes were incredibly detailed and textured – oh ! the beading and lace for some of them!
Janina Hamerlok’s choreography was snazzy and oh so showbizzy, also including tap and the Charleston.
Dangerous, angry Velma Kelly , a deadly viper who is dethroned in prison by her rival ,was given an impressive performance by Kristina McNamara.
Her big introductory number – All That Jazz – boisterously set the scene .We see how she sets out to look after number one but is also scared and fragile. She shimmies, she dances up a dazzling storm to try and get Roxie on her side( I Simply Cannot Do It Alone) .
Roxie Hart, superficially sweet and pretty is coldly calculating, as played by fiery, petite Erin Carlton who portrays her as a spoilt and self absorbed wannabe who tries trading up in boyfriends and pinches Velma’s plans for her trial . Her baby is also a scam.
Roxie transforms her prison cell into a command centre for her commando raids on Chicago’s court system , with help from Flynn. We do also see her vulnerability underneath. The Nowadays duet was glamorous and eye catching,
Sleek, suave, cynical, corrupt hot shot lawyer Billy Flynn was marvellously played by Gavin Brightwell who croons his way through All He Cares About Is Love – oh yeah? The money , rather.
Matron Mama Morton was given a dazzling performance by Courtney Powell who cynically reveals her corruption. She sings up a storm and her When You’re Goo to Mama brings the house down
Quiet, shy Amos, Roxie’s husband, who is rather simple and naive , (Mr Cellophan ), was terrifically played by Scott Dias in a very sympathetic performance.
Vibrant naïve Mary Sunshine (There’s A Little Bit of Good in Everyone), who hides a deep secret, was given a splendid performance by Jared Pallesen .
CHICAGO is about life as a battlefield and the weapons we use in our attempts to survive the wars. It is witty and intelligent its famous songs about betrayal, selfishness and press manipulation, could be equally at home either on the Broadway or Australian stage or in any of the recent Presidential or Prime Ministerial campaigns, giving us plenty to think about.
Razzle dazzle them ….
Running time – just over 2 & ½ hours.
Willoughby Theatre Company’s CHICAGO is playing the Concourse at Chatswood until the 22nd October.
Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fredd Ebb
Based on the play Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Script adaptation by David Thompson