I should first of all put a disclaimer with this review. Chicago is my favourite musical of them all. It is sassy and sexy, filled with a dangerous jazz Age glamour. A mixture of a speakeasy floor show and a Busby Berkeley style musical, bursting with unforgettable characters. Last night the latest touring production opened in Wolverhampton at the Grand Theatre, with a star studded cast at the helm, showing that Chicago still has all its power and glory. All that Jazz indeed!
Chicago is the story of two 1920s murderesses. It’s the height of the jazz age, when anyone can become a star, and the prohibition restraints lead to gin joints, chorus girls and speakeasy’s, with an air of illicit sex and alcohol. The slinky Velma Kelly is the current queen of the Cook County jail after the double slaying of her sister and husband after she caught them ‘en flagrante’. Velma is destined to be a star, sure to be acquitted by the skills of her silky lawyer Billy Flynn, and with the William Morris agency on the phone according to Prison head Mama Morton. But the arrival of the sassy Roxie Hart throws all this into disarray, as Roxie, who murdered her lover, proceeds to steal Velma’s thunder, her headlines and her trial date. But the problem with making your name through murder is that there is always another, more sensational crime around the corner.
In the leading roles as Velma and Roxie, we have the slinky Djalenga Scott and, standing in for Faye Brooks, Billie Hardy. Billie performed with aplomb for her debut, sparky and vibrant, she acquits herself well in the musical numbers, particularly when she takes the part of a ventriloquists dummy in ‘We both reached for the Gun’. As Velma, Djalenga is a suitably slinky, glamorous presence, and opens the proceedings in sensuous style with the iconic ‘All that Jazz’. Her dance skills are fully employed throughout, particularly in the scene where she shows Billy how she will appeal to the jury at her trial.
Billy Flynn needs to be the embodiment of style and charisma, part matinee idol, part vaudeville showman, and stage veteran Darren Day brings this off by playing Flynn as a sort of Frank Sinatra style figure . He plays it very cool emotionally, singing ‘All I care about is love’ but showing it’s the dollar he really loves.
Sinitta is Mama Morton, playing this very different to other performers I have seen. Her Mama is an elegant, stylish presence, certainly not a mother figure, more of a big sister. Her highpoint is a great duet with Velma ‘Class’ where the harmonies were particularly good. The audience totally loves Amos Hart, the Mr Cellophane who is used and ignored by just about everyone. Joel Montague makes what could have been a pathetic character into one filled with pathos – the only really decent person in the whole damn thing.
And then there is the standout. Divina De Campo is absolutely brilliant as sob story reporter Mary Sunshine. A glittering, glamorous presence, who has a stunning, operatic voice, Divina brings warm to her role, and lights up the stage with each appearance.
Chicago is full of amazing musical numbers, many of which I have already mentioned, but the stand out, tour de force, is the sublime ‘Cell Block Tango’ sang by the six murderesses of Cook County as they explain how they came to be in prison. With lines like ‘he walked onto my knife, he walked onto it six times’, the darkly funny side of Chicago is explained, and combined with the dark set, the full band on stage again setting the scene as a floorshow, and the skimpy black costumes worn by both male and female characters, undermining at all times that this is a show about sex and murder.
The most decedent show in town, Chicago has lost none of it’s dark glamour.
26 Oct–30 Oct 2021 Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
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