Theatre in Wales

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“Razzle dazzling” with Billy Flynn.

CHICAGO

David Ian & Michael Watt in association with Barry and Fran Weissler , Wales Millennium Centre , July-25-16
CHICAGO by David Ian & Michael Watt in association with Barry and Fran Weissler Frank Sinatra asserted “My kind of town Chicago is…” well it’s certainly not mine, despite it being populated by many scantily clad, beautiful young ladies. These bikinied, fishnet stockinged girls had all been unfaithful to their husbands and had all murdered their philandering lovers. Eight of them yes eight! They were imprisoned for their wicked deeds but it was not like any other prison you may have seen: A large black box sloping upwards away from us. This was the bandstand and the band played a very big part in all the strange comings and goings. The orchestra under the happy, expert and animated control of Musical Director Ben Atkinson jazzed us along with an edgy delight right from the first to the final moments of this dynamic and gripping show.

Though this was back in ‘hanging times’ the girls didn’t seem to be doing so badly in the prison: “as long as they were good to Mama, Mama would be good to them.” Mama was the prison matron. Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. Gina Murray gives us a perfect hardnosed, warm hearted, twinkly-eyed character that knows her way around.

The story is actually based on a true story of the lawless times in 1920s prohibition America. In the show we meet eccentric journalist Mary Sunshine, always determined to do “A Little Bit of Good.” Mary is based on real life Chicago journalist Maurine Watkins who wrote a play of the same name based on her experiences from which this extraordinary, internationally successful musical has emerged. Mary Sunshine sings some of the highest notes in the show. A D Richardson gives us a hilarious scatter-brain character, a totally convincing performance.

It seems it’s OK to be corrupt, as long as you are good looking. We have a tall dark and handsome man in the centre of everything, lawyer Billy Flynn, who guarantees to get back freedom for the girls as long as he gets given the right fee! Understudy Kerry Spark only discovered he was to play the leading role a few hours before the performance. His acting, his singing, his dancing were all faultless and so were his teeth as he captivated us with his flashing smile.

Though there was a dark background narrative this is sharp satire and a fun, all singing and dancing show and what wonderful, first class singing and dancing this powerful cast gave us. Bad girl Velma Kelly, Sophie Carmen-Jones is a strong and amazingly agile and exciting dancer with a great voice as she and the band get things off to a swinging start with “All That Jazz”. Velma is Billy Flynn’s current client, she’s about to get into court to get her ’not guilty’ verdict. But there’s a new kid on the block, Roxie Hart, another ‘gusto’ performance from the diminutive Hayley Tamaddon. Roxie first confesses her crime but once under the control of Billy Flynn she changes her plea. She has a very sympathetic husband, the gentle Amos, a beautifully judged and sensitive performance from Neil Ditt. His solo number ‘Mr. Cellophane’ is heart rending and wonderful. Now he’s struggling to find the money to pay Flynn.

As well as the girls there are some strapping handsome young men who with the girls reach their best “Razzle dazzling” with Billy Flynn. Earlier they help ‘Roxie” make sure we know who she is. It’s Roxie and Velma’s show. They both respond with ease and create the happy atmosphere that always remains at the core of the show. Now out of prison, in front of a glittering backcloth they bring things to a rousing end with two vaudeville numbers and invite the whole company to join them onstage for the sort of big finish that has ensured that this show has been around for over twenty years and will go on for another twenty, at least.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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