Tuesday, 2 October 2018

REVIEW: Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre

Kander and Ebb’s long running musical ‘Chicago’ returned to the West End earlier this year and recently introduced a new set of leads into the cast. The show is famous for a long list of hit songs including “All That Jazz”, “Mr Cellophane” and “Razzle Dazzle” to name only a few. Fans may be familiar with the 2002 film version, which remains fairly faithful to the stage show. Top billing in this instance is given to Alexandra Burke as wannabe vaudeville star, ‘Roxie Hart’ and Duncan James as the silver tongued prince of the courtroom, ‘Billy Flynn’. Stunt casting receives a lot of criticism in the press, however I am pleased to report that the current stars of ‘Chicago’ have stagecraft enough to make the show an enjoyable couple of hours.

That being said… there is no doubt that Burke is talented, but her soulful vocals feel somewhat out of place in 1920’s Chicago and she never really convinces us of any kind of struggle or character journey throughout the show. She moves well, but next to the dazzling Laura Tyrer as a pitch-perfect Velma Kelly, she struggles to demonstrate the sharpness and specificity needed for Anne Reinking’s fosse- inspired choreography. Fans of the singer will surely enjoy her performance, and it makes for an interesting change from the usual portrayal of Roxie but not necessarily appropriate to the piece as a whole.

Duncan James is better suited to his role and is a more confident actor than his co-star, which makes up for him having a slightly lower vocal range than befits the role. In a production full of big names, the real stars of the night were Mazz Murray as a fiery, nuanced and expertly sung ‘Matron Mama Morton’ and A D Richardson whose Mary Sunshine was a sublime blend of camp and sincerity. Both of these West End veterans understood the tone of the piece and never strayed too far into pantomime territory… something which cannot be said for the whole cast. Too often did the show feel sluggish and dated when it tackles themes of corruption, manipulation of the press and greed which are all-too-prevalent themes in contemporary America. It’s a shame that these brilliant insights weren’t fully played upon by the cast and creative teams.

Ensemble dance is tight, but the energy and passion expected from a west end show is somewhat lacking. It seemed that not a lot of thought had gone into the characterisations and the majority of the show was played for easy laughs. This included the choreography, which was often performed to a high technical standard but had no feeling or excitement to it. That being said, a phenomenal orchestra playing such an infectious score is a real treat and it would be a shame to miss the star turns of Mazz Murray and A D Richardson. On a technical note, the curtain went up 20 minutes late and lighting cues were sloppy at times which is surprising for a long running piece. The details are what are missing in this once brilliant show. There’s still a bit of ‘razzle dazzle’ left, but it’s not the piece it once was.

Review by Michael Russell

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls J4  | Price of Ticket: £72.50
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