Velma Kelly – Sophie Carmen-Jones
Roxie Hart – Hayley Tamaddon
Billy Flynn – John Partridge
Matron ‘Mama’ Morton – Mica Paris
Kander and Ebb’s scintillatingly dazzling musical Chicago has arrived at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham for a very limited engagement. Having not been on the West End since 2011, this was an exciting opportunity for me to see one of my favourite musicals on the stage for the first time.
Set in 1920s Chicago, the show is based on the true story of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Both were guilty of murdering their lovers, but were able to manipulate the jury into not convicting them. Journalist Maurine Watkins covered both trails, and then adapted the story into a play. The story deals with controversial subjects such as murder, deceit, manipulation and acquitting guilty murderers.
It was difficult to watch the stage production without constantly comparing it to the 2002 film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hayley Tamaddon and Sophie Carmen-Jones’s portrayals of accused murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly contained more comedic moments than those of Zeta-Jones and Zellweger. They used to their advantage that fact that comedy is generally much more effective on the stage, with a live audience, than on film with no immediate reaction. This is evident from very early on in the performance, when Tamaddon sings Roxie’s first song, Funny Honey. I must also mention that she impressively sang this hanging from a ladder which folded out from the left-hand wing of the stage!
Both Tamaddon and Carmen-Jones gave incredible performances with an amazing ability to simultaneously sing and dance the insanely energetic choreography of Ann Reinking (credited as ‘in the style of Bob Fosse’).
The production was suitably glitzy and glamorous, despite there being no costume changes and a minimal set. The ten-piece orchestra remained on stage throughout the performance, and seemed to have a lot of fun playing the Entr’acte at the beginning of the second act. The ensemble were a masterclass in dance, and I’m sure made everyone in the audience wish they could dance like that!
Stand out performances came especially from John Partridge, who played the slick lawyer Billy Flynn. He bought the house down with an impressively long note during the iconic number We Both Reached For The Gun. Whilst I’m not sure exactly how long the note lasted, it could easily have rivalled Bernadette Peters’ famous nineteen second-long note in Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun! Mica Paris was also very impressive was Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, wowing the audience with her rendition of When You’re Good To Mama (and getting the loudest cheer at the curtain call). A D Richardson was a hilarious delight as sympathetic journalist Mary Sunshine, delivering remarkable soprano notes, before being revealed as a man!
The famed song Cell Block Tango was the highlight of the show for me, telling the stories of six women on ‘murderesses row’. It’s my favourite song in the film and continues to be my favourite on stage. It’s a powerful song dealing with a controversial subject, whilst being one of the funniest numbers in the show.
Chicago continues to run at the New Alexandra Theatre until 31st December, concluding its hugely successful UK tour.