Dangerous and sexy: an antidote to sweet and fluffy musicals.

November 6, 2012
Here’s why I love Chicago: it’s about women being badass crazy and getting away with it. There’s no moronic moral message, no sappy sentimental songs and, above all, no naff knickers. The female cast members all sport super-sexy undergarments, and rarely anything else, yet the effect is somewhat more butch than burlesque. These women are not interested in titillating you; they are instead exposing themselves to reveal just how invulnerable they are. 

Chicago began touring the UK this September after it finished a 15-year run at the Garrick Theatre in London, and this recent production is a belter. I had been meanly sceptical – the cast comprises ex-soap stars made ‘more’ famous by Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice – yet this proved to be a strong, seamless show which quickly thrust me into the Razzle Dazzle of everything I love about a good musical: it was funny, fast, engaging, energising, ridiculous and unapologetically naughty.

The plot is simple: wannabe Vaudeville star Roxie Hart shoots her lover dead and after failing to fool her boring-mechanic husband that she had been defending herself from a burglar lands herself in prison and facing the death sentence. Here she meets Velma Kelly, a former star of the stage also awaiting trial, for killing her husband and sister after finding them in a ‘loving embrace’. The women enter a shameless quest to exploit both the talents of top-lawyer Billy Flynn and the sensation-hungry media to get them off the hook. Such a scenario could lead to an intellectual exploration of the truth-media-fame-money relationship; however, and thankfully, instead what unfolds are countless beefy, show-stopping numbers which are not so much fuelled by a need to debate the virtues or otherwise of resisting fame and seeking honesty as they are intent on sharing with you an electric joie de vivre.

Ali Bastian plays a perfectly plucky Roxie and Tupele Dorgu’s Velma is just as gutsy as I was hoping she’d be. Although you could say that their characters are disgustingly self-centred and ambitious, nothing ‘bad’ happens to them as a result and they remain exceptionally likeable, and in fact their ambitiousness serves them well. Chicago somehow manages to stomp over stereotypes and prejudices apparently without having any moral agenda. It’s a blast.

March 22, 2007

New Theatre, Oxford | Mon March 19th - Sat March 24th 2007

I've been looking forward to seeing this for months, as my long-suffering boyfriend knows only too well. It's hard to say why I'm so fond of Chicago - the characters are unlikeable, disreputable, low-lifes and don't even get their just desserts. Perhaps it's that secret desire that we all have to be femmes fatales? Or maybe it's mushier than that - I was introduced to this show by Channel 4's Musicality, a competition in which ordinary members of the public auditioned, trained and were whittled down to a small group who then replaced the usual cast of Chicago for one night. So the gaps in the plot and the obnoxious characters in the show are easily overlooked as it's linked to some much nicer characters in my head.

Then of course there's the sheer energy of the music and dancing, though the choreography could equally be described as acrobatics. It's not beautiful and flowing, but it's not meant to be. In this performance the strongest ensemble piece as far as dancing is concerned is Razzle Dazzle, because the style of choreography suits the circus theme so well. With the band in the centre of the action there is an immediacy to the music, and the musicians respond to being on view with their own performance and enjoyment. How suitable that their solo number is largely based around Mister Cellophane, poor overlooked performers that they are!

The plot centres around Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and goes to jail. The police say she'll be hung, so she hires Billy Flynn the best lawyer in town. Velma Kelly, already in jail for murdering her sister, is most annoyed at having her thunder and her lawyer stolen. Eventually the two are forced to team up to get back into the limelight and vaudeville. If there is a moral it is that no publicity is bad publicity, or that murder is a great career move: "and who in case she doesn't hang / can say she started with a bang? / Roxie Hart!"

Roxie and Velma are obviously the most important characters, and in this performance Roxie was played by the understudy, Charleen Qwaye. She seemed a little nervous at first, especially around Velma, but really blossomed when we got to the scenes with Billy and explaining Roxie's dreams of fame. She managed then, surrounded by "her boys", to look both supremely smug, and as anxiously wide-eyed as a child in a chocolate factory. And her floppy rag-doll act in We Both Reached For The Gun (The Press Conference Rag) was astonishing. Velma was husky and acerbic, and her duet with Mama Morton on the state of the world, Class, really brought out its comedy. Billy Flynn and Amos Hart were respectively suavity personified and drenched in pathos.

Occasionally things weren't together, especially Velma and Roxie's Hot Honey Rag, but this was more than made up for by the pace of the whole thing. It's a spectacular, from the swinging rhythms to the tight black costumes. It may well give you ideas and a glint in the eye!

Its great - go and see it - Tuesday's performance had the understudy on as Roxie, she was good, although dancing was out towards the end.
Very entertaining.
And Jimmy was good, understated, vocally competent, let the rest of the show cast shine, thought it was very accomplished.

Murder, greed, treachery and corruption have arrived in Oxford, along with a host of scantily-clad girls and bare-chested boys. The hit musical Chicago is on at the New Theatre until Saturday 2nd May and it’s well worth going to see. 

This is the story of Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and is imprisoned awaiting trial alongside another murderess, Velma Kelly. Both women know that their path to freedom lies with the egocentric, greedy lawyer Billy Flynn and both crave the publicity that goes with their trials.

Even if you haven’t seen it before, you’ll know some of the music. The opening number is All That Jazz, which is performed by Twinnie-Lee Moore as Velma, supported by the company. It has to be said that it is terrific – Moore is a great dancer and singer and the number sets the tone (sleaze!) for the rest of the show.

The other female lead is Emma Barton as Roxie Hart. Having said that Twinnie-Lee Moore is great as Velma, Barton is fantastic in the lead role. She can dance, sing and act (the scene where she plays a ventriloquist’s dummy is brilliantly played): if anyone currently playing in touring productions deserves the step up to stardom, it’s Emma Barton.

Both are helped tremendously by the material and the supporting players. The choreography is stunning and the dancers in the company are energetic and athletic, with excellent timing. The small orchestra, led by the enthusiastic Garth Hall, give their all and clearly enjoy the jazz repertoire.

You may have seen the posters introducing the star of the show: Billy Flynn is played by Jimmy Osmond, who last graced the UK rests 35 years ago with such timeless hits as Long Haired Lover from Liverpool, Tweedlee Dee and I’m Gonna Knock on your Door. I didn’t expect to be impressed by him – and I must say he’s not that good, but he’s not that bad, either. He can sing but I wouldn’t put him in the top 1,000 dancers of all time. The main problem is that he is meant to be playing a real shyster but he comes across as too nice; he’s an Osmond, for heaven’s sake!

But don’t let that put you off. It really is a great show with a fabulous cast, great music and wonderful dancing.

A brilliant show, high energy, well cast, and with a great band who were not bad movers themselves. The ventriloquism scene was pure magic, and I found Billy Flynn quite convincing - perhaps because I didn't know until after the show that there was an Osmond on view!
Well done one & all.

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