Wednesday, 18 April 2018

REVIEW: Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre

Chicago still remains to be one of the sexiest shows on the West End. Not surprisingly, this musicals themes seem more relevant today, than ever. The celebrity obsessed culture, media twisting news telling and the American sense of patriotism are very reminiscent of our times. 

Its simplistic style and theatrical devises are cleverly used and are still as fresh as ever in this West End revival. Keeping in the true Bob Fosse style, Ann Reinking brings a fresh take to the musical, still keeping the essence of the original production but bringing a fresh energy with a star cast who ooze everything this musical is supposed to be. 

Leading the band, we had Ian Townsend. Now this band, slapped right bang in the middle of the action, showed us why we love live theatre. It reminded us of the hard work and beauty that goes on behind (or under) the scenes that we usually don’t see. The orchestration of this score in this production was wonderful and I couldn’t take my eyes off this talented bunch of musicians. 

Sarah Soetaert took a while to warm up as Roxie, but she absolute stole the show with her leading lady skills in the number ‘Roxie’, her comedy was spot on and her understated performance suddenly sparkled with naivety and spunk that was both heart-warming and show stealing. 

Josefina Gabrielle is a true Velma in every way, with legs for days she demonstrated the style of this show with one look and could hold the audience in suspense with one high kick. Perfect casting as Velma Kelly. 

Paul Rider played Amos and showed every actor out there that there truly is no small parts, just small actors. His number ‘Mr Cellophane’ was the true 11’o’clock number of the show and captured our souls with his performance.

Ruthie Henshall makes a triumph return to Chicago, this time as Mama Morton. She is a wonderful choice in this role and her grounding showed every essence of the character that I don’t think we’ve seen before from someone in this role. The only thing for me is that she looked the same age as both Roxie and Velma, which throws the whole ‘Mama’ aspect out of the window. 

Now the star casting of the show, Cuba Gooding Jr. Unfortunately, he let the production down. For such a seasoned actor he looked uncomfortable and lost on stage. His wonderful acting talents seemed to have disappeared and were out of place on this exposing stage. Every move was unnatural and forced which meant an uncomfortable response from the audience. His vocal ability also was shocking, if he owned the stage we wouldn’t worry about this but as he lacked that he was left looking more big brother star than Hollywood star on the Phoenix Theatre stage. 

A mention must go to A D Richardson, who had the audience in the palm of his hand. His portrayal of Mary Sunshine was just wonderful, and I’d pay good money to see him in a cabaret of his own. 

The true stars of this musical are the stand out ensemble; smooth and classy, they hit every move with conviction and style brining a slickness and cleanliness to the production. Finishing this show with a huge, juicy cherry on top. Stand out performances from Emma Harris, Frances Dee, Callum MacDonald and Charles Ruhrmund. 

However, I am disappointed not to see an understudy list in the programme. Audiences deserve to know who they're seeing if someone is off.

Even though this cast are let down by stunt casting, it is still worth seeing for the truly incredible and outstanding display of West End talent London has to offer. Chicago is truly at home back on the West End and I hope to see it there for a while to come. 

Review by Mark Swale

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row K Seat 19 | Price of Ticket: £72.50
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