Saturday, 27 October 2012


The legendary musical becomes LegenDerry as it visits the Millennium Forum - but is it really all that jazz, or not enough razzle dazzle?

I've always had an uneasy relationship with the musical Chicago. It's the sort of thing that can very easily be seen as immoral, smug and hypocritical cotton candy; is getting away with murder, violence, adultery, sleaziness, alienation, exploitation, corruption and treachery really something to be celebrated in song and dance? But therein lies the paradox of Chicago; for what it is, that is to say, an absurdly well paced musical, it works as a deliriously rousing melodic satire. And this particular version is brilliantly choreographed, superbly staged and rather well acted too – in other words, well worth a trip to the theatre.

"Murder is a form of entertainment", says a key character at one point, and it holds true in 1920s Chicago as much as anywhere else, where Roxie Hart (Ali Bastian, almost three years from being robbed of what would have been a deserved Strictly Come Dancing triumph) finds herself in jail for murder along with numerous other women, including singing sensation Velma Kelly (Tupele Dorgu). The rest of the show primarily focuses on Roxie, Velma and their attempts to clear their name, with the help of notorious criminal lawyer Billy Flynn (Stefan Booth, recently of Eastenders).

This is the sort of show where, no matter where you look on the stage, there's almost always something for the eyes and ears to savour, be it the acting, singing, choreography or orchestrations. As far as major musicals go, Chicago is as close to an interactive experience as you can get without actually having to leave your seats and dance on stage; both orchestra and audience find themselves involved in the "swing" of the production numerous times throughout the evening, whether they are clapping along to "All That Jazz" or "Roxie" (the character, not the song!) is chatting up the bandleader!

Ali Bastian... a "smouldering" Roxie
Speaking of Roxie, Ali Bastian absolutely smoulders in this part. Her deceptively skinny and slight frame convincingly hides the devious minx that lies within. She's virtually impossible to look away from, even while the excellent Jamie Baughan is stealing scenes as Roxie’s sad sack husband Amos. Tupele Dorgu has just the right amount of diction, conviction and bullishness to make her the perfect Velma, and Genevieve Nicole (standing in for the unfortunately absent Bernie Nolan) is a suitably domineering onstage presence. Not quite as impressive is Stefan Booth, whose Frank Sinatra-esque charisma and vocal abilities don't quite seem suited for Billy Flynn. It’s interesting to contrast Booth with Richard Gere, a tone deaf "actor" who milked the part for all it was worth, and realize that it is Gere's performance that's more memorable. Perhaps this is why his rendition of "Razzle Dazzle" is literally lacking in razzle dazzle. Still, his remains a solid portrayal, with the staggering "We Both Reached For The Gun", getting the biggest roar of appreciation on the night.

Ultimately, Chicago is at its best when it maintains a breezy, satirical tone – when it tries to be serious, as is the case with the song "Class", the spirit of the show has been so frivolous that we have little reason to care. Indeed, the only character we truly care for is Amos – and he gets one song! Fortunately these "grim" moments are few and far between, and the audience will leave the theatre having learnt a thing or two about the power of song and dance... and a little bit more.

(Photos courtesy of the Millennium Forum.)