Social Secretary Ella Kipling and Culture Writer Joi Foote praise Chicago, celebrating it as one of the best shows they have ever seen
Perspective 1 – Joi Foote
The ‘second longest running show in Broadway history’, Chicago, made its way to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in what was a remarkable performance of vice and sin. Set in early 20th century Chicago, the musical, which is an adaptation of the play by Maurine Watkins, harks back to years of the Jazz Age. We follow the story of Roxie Hart (Billie Hardy) who, after murdering her lover, finds herself in the Cook County Jail. Here we are introduced to the likes of Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) and Mama Morton (Sinitta Malone) as we watch the characters in their pursuit of fame and acts of deceit.
An essential part of the musical was having the orchestra’s presence visible on stage throughout the performance, even at times interacting with the cast – at one point, Roxie took a moment to show the conductor her name headlined in the papers. It was the light moments like this that as an audience member resonated with me.
The theatre room truly felt alive with the sound of music, with the effect of having a live orchestra being an undeniable asset to the performance, as it intensified every number from start to finish. I do not think there was a song that was not followed by a reaction of applause from the audience. There were some especially nice moments where the sound effects produced by the drummer were particularly pleasing in accompanying the ongoing action unfolding on the stage.
Scott’s rendition of ‘All that Jazz’ was just the perfect opening to set the scene for what was to come. Her performance was captivating to put it lightly and she was definitely the standout actor in my eyes. I was truly transported to the Jazz Age through her portrayal of Kelly, who was in the Cook County jail for murdering her husband and sister, whom she caught having an affair. Scott executed the right amount of charm with an unapologetically sinister aspect to her that left me wanting to see her character explored more.
The ‘Cell Block Tango’ has always been a personal favourite of mine. I would be lying if I did not say my expectations for this number were high. However, I was not disappointed. The performance was electric, and the Six Merry Murderesses (Pop, Six, Squish, Uh Uh, Cicero and Lipshitz) even managed to convince me their husbands ‘had it coming’. There was not a dance number where I was not in sheer awe of the choreography and its execution on the stage. One number in particular – ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ – comedically represents how easily the press can be manipulated, as the musical explores the obsession with fame and disregard for the law.
The costume choice was simply stunning. The uniform, all back attire with sheer accents, whilst paying homage to past versions of the musical retain an element of newness about it. They captured the sexiness that is Chicago, and were designed in such a way that each piece accentuated the dancers and the cast. With an extensive résumé in Broadway and theatre costume, William Ivey Long is no showbiz newbie, having designed for the likes of Grease, Dreamgirls, Hairspray and now Chicago to bring us beautifully crafted pieces.
Chicago continues to stand the test of time and the ‘story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery’ and its vibrant cast is definitely one to go and watch.
Perspective 2: Ella Kipling
Chicago at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is a sublime musical complete with everything you would hope for from this classic: scandal, sensuality, and a whole lot of murder. Telling the story of Roxie Hart, a young dancer who kills her ex-lover and finds herself swept up in the whirlwind of the press surrounded by other murderous women, this production of Chicago has earned its place as one of the best shows I have seen in my lifetime.
The devious and attention-loving Roxie was played by understudy Billie Hardy, who rose to the challenge and perfectly captured the childlike ignorance of the character and stunned the audience with her vocals. Hardy’s performance of ‘Roxie’ struck all the right notes and was arguably one of the show highlights. Other notable vocal performances include Darren Day who commanded the stage during Billy Flynn’s songs, and Divina De Campo as Mary Sunshine who blew the audience away during ‘A Little Bit of Good.’
In my eyes, Djalenga Scott, who plays Roxie’s rival Velma Kelly, is the true star of the show and captivated the audience with her presence alone. Her vocal talent and ability to execute the choreography with both technical accuracy and expression marks her as one to watch from the offset. Musical numbers ‘I Can’t Do it Alone’ and ‘When Velma Takes the Stand’ combined singing and acting as well as elements of physical comedy, which Scott pulls off effortlessly and gracefully.
Scott’s rendition of ‘Class’ alongside Mama Morton (played by Sinitta) was a subtle yet beautiful performance and combined the two singer’s voices perfectly. One of the few musical numbers without choreography, the characters being sat down throughout the entire song allowed the audience to truly focus on their voices, which definitely impressed.
Whilst Chicago may centre around dark themes, this production also had elements of humour, such as when Velma asks the band: ‘May I have my exit music please?’ Later on, the meek character Amos (Joel Montague) tries to replicate this demand but has less successful results, leading the audience to erupt in fits of laughter. The choreography is also used in amusing ways such as during ‘We Both Reached For the Gun’ where Roxie is essentially used as a human puppet on Billy’s knee.
The choice of placing the orchestra on stage and thus having the musicians be a part of the show was a brilliant one, and further developed the sense of setting and mood, making the audience feel as though we were in a cabaret with the characters. The band, who tragically often go unnoticed, were centre stage and rose to this attention by having the audience dance along to the ‘Entr’acte’ at the beginning of Act 2.
The musical director Andrew Hilton also doubled as the MC, breaking the fourth wall to announce the characters to the audience- a decision I felt connected the audience to the show even further. The simple set, complete with long black ladders moving in and out of the wings which many of the characters draped themselves on gracefully, worked in the show’s favour and allowed the performers and the band to be the main focus.
It would go remiss to review a production of Chicago and not mention the choreography, and in particular, the influence of Bob Fosse. While the original Chicago choreography was created by Ann Reinking, it was recreated for this production by Gary Chryst. The elegant, sultry, and smooth style of Fosse’s choreography was evident in this production and ran through every number in the form of quick feet, clean lines, and stunning silhouettes.
The original choreography for Hot Money Rag by Bob Fosse, the penultimate musical number, was included and this cemented a sense of authenticity and timelessness into the show. The all-black costumes whilst minimal and skin-baring were gorgeous and added another classic touch to the production. This show did not need to rely on over-the-top and intricate costumes and the simplicity of the skimpy black numbers partnered well with Fosse inspired choreography, complimenting the angular movements and sensuality of the choreography nicely.
I struggle to find a bad word to say about this production. Every element played together perfectly, essentially producing a near-perfect show filled with drama, humour, and stunning performances.
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