Ladies and gentleman, for this review TRASH would like to recall the best bits of Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre, London and take readers through the historical musical – with as few spoilers as possible – in an act of adoration…
Following a five year break, Chicago is back in London where it belongs (musically, not geographically of course). The big news is that they’ve brought an Oscar winner from the home of Broadway: Cuba Gooding Jr., taking on the role of Billy Flynn, but the entire list of actors is beyond impressive to the theatre goer in the know.
Making up the cast are a trio of West End legends, all of whom have played a part in the Chicago saga before. Sarah Soetaert plays Roxie Hart once again, Josefina Gabrielle takes on the role of Velma – having previously played Roxie, and Ruthie Henshall is Matron “Mama” Morton after portraying both Roxie and Velma previously, making her the only UK actress to do so.
Elsewhere, Paul Rider is extraordinary as the beyond ordinary Amos Hart, and A. D. Richardson dazzles as reporter Mary Sunshine, with an ensemble cast flexible and leggy enough to kick life into a play almost a century old. So without running through the whole damn thing, here’s what makes this murderous, disloyal, primarily jail-set jaunt one musical you won’t want to miss:
The music is the star of the show. It sounds obvious (…it’s a musical), but rather than buried beneath the stage, the band take up the vast majority of the actor’s space. This adds a heap to the show; returning audiences to the jazz-filled ’20s, providing interesting spaces and fourth-wall breaking moments for the cast, but also allowing the acting to take front and centre stage, with chairs pretty much the only props.
Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Brooklyn brawl and vocal rasps give Billy Flynn an edge that other portrayals haven’t had, but it works. Despite the differences, and the fact that he isn’t the best vocalist ever to take the role, he still razzle dazzles.
Having seen the Broadway version recently, there’s one stark difference between the two productions, and that’s the name on everyone’s lips: Roxie. Unlike a more timid version of the character currently treading the boards in NYC, Soetaert’s Roxie Hart has a little more sass and determination, which makes her cunningness all the more believable.
A. D. Richardson has an absolutely massive pair of lungs. And a big surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen the show before.
The combination of Josefina Gabrielle and Ruthie Henshall reaches its peak during Class; a moment to have West End superfans quivering like the “not guilty” Hungarian heading to hear her fate. Sat back to back and performing note for note perfection, it answers it’s own question: Whatever happened to class? It’s right here.
As always, the ensemble make it – from the iconic Cell Block Tango number, to Billy’s feather clad girls, and Roxie’s court case and the one-man jury – this wouldn’t work as a 6-person show.
Sometimes it’s the simplicity of the choreography that works best. Velma’s act of desperation (“where she goes… and she goes… and she goes…”) is delightfully childlike, while the her closing number with Roxie is something you feel you could do yourself with a couple of hours and a YouTube video to hand. But these aren’t two Pineapple Dance Studio trained performers; they’re simply murderesses on the dancefloor.
Head to the Chicago website to get your tickets, and all that jazz.