Celebrating it’s 21st anniversary, the hit musical – with a Oscar-winning film adaptation – Chicago has been revived on the West End. There’s nothing quite like the razzle-dazzle of Chicago, with the adultery, murder, jazz, and sequins – what more could you possibly want? With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Chicago is a well-known and well-loved musical of debauchery and satire. Set in the 1920s, it sounds like an aesthetic dream, but this revival might now be a little out-dated and a little out of place in the modern theatre world.
In its time, Chicago was groundbreaking theatre, with its slick choreography, intense themes, and thrilling plot. However, in comparison to what the theatre world has to offer today, unfortunately it misses the mark. The sheer demand for new musicals, Broadway hits, and exciting, sharp, witty concepts just leaves Chicago behind. There’s nothing wrong with the script or the music – of course not! But a lack of revamp and slickness leaves Chicago in the dark, unfortunately it’s just another worn revival treading the boards once again.
All that aside, there are some brilliant performances in this revival. Housewife turned murderess Roxie Hart is played by Sarah Soetaert who’s not afraid to let loose and give Roxie an extra smidge of personality and drama. Fellow murderess and jazz babe Velma Kelly is played by Josefina Gabrielle whose rendition of ‘Class’ alongside Ruthie Henshall’s Matron “Mama” Morton is one of the best in the show. Other standouts include A.D Richardson as Mary Sunshine, who got plenty of laughs at the grand reveal; and finally Paul Rider’s Amos Hart was a hit with the audience for his ‘Cellophane’ performance and general misfortune throughout the show.
One thing this production is especially guilty of is its stunt casting, with Academy award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. taking the role of Billy Flynn. I really think Flynn makes or breaks a production of Chicago, and in this case it was a miss for me. Flynn’s first entrance is one that should set the tone for the rest of the show, with “All I Care About” being the introduction of a great satirical performance, but Gooding Jr.’s understated approach to the character just did not work, there was no drama or intrigue. And furthermore what is, in my opinion, the best moment of the show, ‘Razzle Dazzle’ was a bit of a disappointment due to the lack of energy, spark, and charisma from Gooding Jr. I really wanted to love this production, unfortunately I just don’t think it compares to what is on offer in other theatres.
The women in this production definitely make it, and Soetaert’s Roxie is one of great energy and mischief. However, on the whole, this revival of Chicago just does not make sense amid the rest of the theatre world’s progress, both on Broadway and on a Fringe level. The once fabulous musical has lost a little of its Razzle Dazzle.