The last revival of Chicago hit London from 1997 – 2012. It was one of the first productions to introduce the concept of ‘stunt casting’ and a whole host of celebrities running from A to Z have since had their turn. Several cast members from the show’s previous run have returned either to reprise their roles (Sarah Soetaert as Roxie Hart, Paul Rider as Amos Hart) or to accept the challenge of playing a different character (Josefina Gabrielle as Velma Kelly, Ruthie Henshall as Mama Morton. Sharing the limelight with them is none other than the Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr, who has taken on the role of slippery lawyer Billy Flynn.
I headed to the Phoenix Theatre to take my place in the era of smoky back-street jazz clubs where the gin is cold and the piano’s hot to see if I could be the judge and jury for the performance. The cosy environment of the theatre is complemented nicely by the stage layout, with the orchestra positioned in full view towards the rear on tiered seating, and the company seated at their sides whenever they’re not performing, giving the whole production a very intimate feel.
The infamous Cell Block Tango scene is a particular highlight of the first act, with intriguing back-stories complemented by impressive harmonies and sublime displays of expressive vocals by the six merry murderesses, and some delightful facial expressions from Sarah Soetaert’s Roxie aid her seemingly effortless transitions from wide-eyed innocent to seductress to full-on vengeful vamp. Indeed, you really do start to agree that He Had It Comin’. Ruthie Henshall lends a tough but matronly presence to proceedings behind the bars of Cook County Jail in the role of Mama Morton, and when the roguishly arrogant lawyer Billy Flynn appears on the scene along with sympathetic journalist Mary Sunshine (a role in which AD Richardson really shines), Roxie believes that with their help and a little tinkering with the finer details, her name isn’t likely to fade from the scene anytime soon... much to Velma’s chagrin.
Cuba Gooding Jr shows his vulnerable side when on stage alone, the man can act, and dance and sing on a gunshot and much should be made of his ventriloquist turn. Although the staging is relatively simple with no elaborate set, there are plenty of strong performances, ranging from vocal to dancing to acting - and all of these coupled to the occasional twist or turn as the show progresses help to ensure that this particular production definitely has more than its fair share of both Class and Razzle Dazzle.
Chicago is booking at the Phoenix Theatre through 6 October. Cuba Gooding Jr finishes his stint as Billy Flynn 30 June to be replaced by Martin Kemp from 2 July. Book your Chicago tickets here.
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