Theatre in Wales

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A production that has real class

Chicago

Aberystwyth Arts Centre , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August-17-10
Chicago by Aberystwyth Arts Centre Chicago in its Bob Fosse incarnation is still running in the West End as well as touring. Aberystwyth Arts Centre have set themselves a challenge by mounting it as their summer production, a challenge which they have triumphantly risen to with style and pizazz.

Anthony Williams' sizzling staging starts with musical director Michael Morwood, walking on and announcing the tale of murder, greed and corruption to follow, then calmly strolling over to the superb on-stage band and launching them into All That Jazz.

The production's greatest strength is that it never allows you to forget the tawdry vaudeville ambitions that underlie everyone's behaviour. This sleight of hand means the set pieces constantly balance between breathtaking slickness and an apparent end of pier naivety. Ali Allen's excellent jail-house set constantly bursts into colour as brash song and dance numbers blaze out from behind its dour bars.

Shona Lindsay sings both sweet and raunchy as an excellent Roxie Hart. Her comedy acting is good too, especially during the gloriously over the top trial scene. She's well matched by Carrie Ellis' fabulous, hard bitten yet vulnerable Velma.

As for Ian Knauer, he is the best Billy Flynn I've ever seen, with his patently false bonhomie and a smile so sincere you wouldn't trust it as far as it could dazzle you. He knows just what weight to give each of his numbers, just watch the way he underplays Razzle Dazzle and lets the circus shenanigans surrounding him do the work. And his comedy timing is nigh on perfection.

David Barrett's Amos Hart, the man nobody notices, is suitably and magnificently nondescript. His Mr Cellophane is a delight. His performance was crowned by the fact that at his final exit, which no-one on stage actually does notice, the audience wanted to applaud him but realised that to do so would undermine just how well he had handled it.

Neat casting makes sure that Elizabeth Diamond's gravel voiced, long-legged Mama Morton and Julia J Nagle's operatic Mary Sunshine provide a little unexpected zest for those who think they know the musical.

Stand-out moments include a stunning Cell Block Tango, the eye-popping circus of the aforementioned Razzle Dazzle and an exquisite low-key rendering of my own particular favourite song, Class . The production itself has real class. It's as fine a Chicago as you could ever hope to see with the whole company giving it about 150%.

Reviewed by: Victor Hallett

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