Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Chicago

Clear Channel Entertainment in association with Barry & Fran Weissler , New Theatre Cardiff , November-11-04
Chicago is a very cerebral musical, a pretty young woman gets hung half way through, that’s pretty serious! Ok she was guilty of murdering her husband but then so did all the other lovelies, well if it wasn’t their husbands it was their lovers, who ‘Tangoed’ on death row and two of them, the stars of the show, got off!! Lawyer Billy Flynn, with his ‘Razzle Dazzle’, never loses a case.

Musical Theatre is acknowledged as being a big provider popular entertainment. Here the themes of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery are treated with wry humour and tongue in cheek irony, shaken up with beautiful dancers and great music to give us all a good time. How good’s a good time and how do you know if what you’re getting is good enough?

There’s no doubt that this is a great show. It’s rarely been off the stage, either in London or Broadway, since its first performance in 1975. The stars then were Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli, just writing those names sends a shiver down my spine: a hard act to follow. Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones both did fine jobs in the film but the shiver down my back isn’t quite so strong.

The story set in 1920s Chicago is based on a play based on two real-life murder trials of two women that caught the public eye at the time. Chicago-The Musical was Bob Fosse’s personal creation. He wrote the book and with music from John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb directed the original production. He was clearly attracted to the idea of making musicals out of tough subjects, shortly before he had staged Cabaret, a show with many similarities to Chicago, The character of Eem Cee in Cabaret is a stand-in for Hitler and Nazis round people up for the death camps towards the end but it’s Oh such fun!

The show is set in a sleazy basement night-club with bare brick walls, painted black. Comparisons between ‘justice’ and ‘show-business’ are demonstrated by telling the story through a series of vaudeville acts. At one point Roxy and her lawyer do a ventriloquist act, they ‘both reached for the gun’.

The characters of Velma, Roxy, Mama Morton Amos and Billy Flynn are complex and clearly defined and unless played with complete conviction, however good singers and dancers the actors may be, the full impact of the show will be lost. The opening number ‘All That Jazz’, sang by Rachel Stanley started low and built to an exciting finish and my back began to shiver. The band, under the very lively direction of Dan Jackson was superb, at the end they received the biggest cheer of the night. The boy dancers were top-notch and the choreography excellent.

As things went on my back calmed down and although the ensemble numbers were always terrific, the performances of the leading players left a lot to be desired. Cavin Cornwall looked immaculate as Billy Flynn but like Rachel Stanley and Claire Taylor his character was unconvincing and his performance lacked the guts and excitement that this kind of entertainment demands. Come on guys, give the punters their monies worth! It says a lot that one of the minor characters, with only one song, ‘Mister Cellophane’, Amos, Roxy’s long suffering husband, played with real feeling by Christopher Howell nearly stole the show. Sure the audience had a good time but it should have been much better. Performers have a responsibility to thrill their audiences. That’s the only way to be sure they’ll come back for more!

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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