The return of ‘Chicago’ to Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is a sexy, comedic triumph, says Brian Finnegan.
Although the film version of Chicago, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere has become the representation of Kander and Ebb’s most successful show that comes to most musical lovers minds, it’s important to remember that the movie was made on the back of the hugely successful 1996 revival, which began its life and ran for just a year in 1975. Thanks to the savvy casting of celebrities who wouldn’t ordinarily be associated with musical theatre, this revival has been doing the rounds for two decades now, never failing to sell to packed houses.
It was a packed to bursting house that greeted the second coming of Chicago to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre last night, lured there maybe by the casting of EastEnders hunk John Partridge (who played gay character Christian Clarke on the soap) in the role of smooth-singing lawyer, Billy Flynn and 2013 X Factor winner, Sam Bailey as keeper of the keys at Cook County Jail, Mama Morton.
Still featuring John Lee Beatty’s set and costume design and Ann Reinking’s original choreography in the style of frequent Kander and Ebb collaborator, Bob Fosse, if you haven’t seen this stage version of Chicago, the go-to word is ‘sex’. The costumes are tight, black, often see-through, and compliment the bodies of a cast that is more than pleasing on the eye. This heightened eroticism was all but eschewed from Rob Marshall’s film, but what’s surprising, particularly from this production, is how much of the show’s black humour ended up on the cutting room floor too.
From the moment Velma Kelly, (Sophie Carmen-Jones) opened the proceedings, the audience was tittering. Packed with word-play and innuendo, Fred Ebb’s lyrics really sparkles in the hands of this cast, particularly with Hayley Tammadon’s gleeful take on Roxie Hart. The story, if you don’t know it already, follows Roxie after she murders her lover and is sent to prison, becoming the latest ladykiller sensation in jazz age Chicago. Her chief rival behind bars is Vaudeville star Velma Kelly, sent down for the murder of her sister and husband, an incident she claims not to remember. As the hangman’s noose hovers over Roxie, lawyer Billy Flynn fights to free her, turning her into the overnight celebrity she always wanted to be.
It might seem like a simple plot, and this show with its meticulous choreography, big, brash numbers, and superbly drawn characters might be hugely entertaining, but beneath the slick surface it’s a complicated beast. Unbelievably up-to-the minute even though it was written in the early seventies, Chicago has more to say about modern celebrity culture, the corruption of the American legal system, consumerism and ambition than Big Brother, Netflix’s Making a Murder, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians all thrown in together.
Partridge makes for a convincing Billy Flynn, and he can belt out a tune, even though it might take a few minutes to forget Richard Gere’s version. Sam Bailey is a tuneful if less sleazy Mama Morton, and Carmen-Jones is a more than able Velma Kelly, but this show belongs to Tammadon. Her Roxie Hart buzzes about the stage with barely contained joi de vivre, and her every number brings the house down.
If you’re looking for a great night’s entertainment that will have you dancing out of the theatre with the songs in your head, you couldn’t ask for better.
‘Chicago’ runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 21, tickets here.
© 2016 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.