Chicago cast


The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


We’ve all heard of the Roaring 20s, well, this is the Raunchy 20s in a prohibition era Chicago where murder has become a spectator sport, the more sensational the better, and throw in sex and a pretty, female accused, and you not only have that day’s news but a ready-made celebrity – until the next one comes along, of course.

And that, in short, ladies and gentlemen, is Chicago, raunchy but never crude, sexy but never sleazy, and sensational from low key start to spectacular end enjoying a cast where fault is difficult to find.

The deft hand of Bob Fosse is all over the slick and slinky choreography from Ann Reinking where cast move as one or create sexy animations, and there is even a nod to Busby Berkeley with a spectacular routine with huge feather fans as celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn explains his courtroom philosophy, All I care about, which is basically give me $5,000 and I will get you off and make you famous.

While smooth talking Billy, played by dapper Darren Day, creates innocence out of bang to rights guilt, we have his charges incarcerated in Cook County Jail under the watchful guidance of Matron Mama Morton, played by Sinitta Malone returning with some style to her acting roots.

Mama is not so much governor of the women’s wing as theatrical agent and facilitator, as she sings When you’re good to mama . . .

billy with fans

Darren Day as Billy Flynn enjoying his . . . fan base

Star inmate, with a stellar vaudeville career waiting is Velma Kelly, a lovely performance oozing sex appeal from Djalenga Scott. Velma has a double murder for Billy to find not guilty verdicts for and she is the current sensation in Press and on radio.

That is until Roxie Hart comes along having shot her lover. Coronation Street’s Kate Connor to Chicago’s femme fatale is a breeze for Faye Brookes, who brings Roxie to delightful, racy life.

Roxy, like all the women in Cook County, is not guilty, which is not the same as innocent, just that their victims sort of deserved it, or at least that’s what we are told in the Cell Block Tango as Velma and a collection of the sweet young things, explain why they are there and why they shouldn’t be.

The only real victim in all this is Hunyak, the Hungarian, played by Hollie Jane Stephens, whose only English is “Not Guilty” which, without $5,000 and Billy Flynn doesn’t count as a defence, but at least she can content herself with breaking 43 years of tradition of not hanging women in a jolt to the audience with a moment of shock – a reminder perhaps that the comedy had a dark side.

While Roxie is turned by Billy into not only a victim, but a mother-to-be victim – an ace card even Velma didn’t see coming, standing by her is Amos, her cardigan wearing, steady, car mechanic of a husband. She has him wrapped round her little finger, which is about as close as he gets to her these days.  

Amos cellophane

Joel Montague as Amos Hart, Roxy's Mr Cellophane

It is a superb performance from Joel Montague and you could feel the audience’s heart going out to him in his signature solo Mister Cellophane, nobody on stage might notice him but the audience certainly did.

The staging of Chicago is vaudeville style, the characters and scenes become acts, announced to the audience, and centre stage we have the orchestra, a wonderful 10 piece under musical director and conductor Andrew Hilton. No matter what electronic gadgetry is used nothing has the rich, glorious sound of a real live orchestra, all well balanced with Rick Clarke's sound design.

Chicago – The Musical is based on the satirical 1926 play, Chicago, written by Maurine Watkins, who had been a junior reporter on the Chicago Tribune covering the sensational court cases of women accused of murder where it seemed the prettier they were the better their chances of being found not guilty and a career or celebrity to follow.

It was a time before television and the misnomer of reality TV, in Chicago real murder was reality itself, the newspapers and radio sensationalising every cough and spit of killings and trials, fuelled by “sob sister” journalists such as Watkins, or in the stage show, by reporter Mary Sunshine, with a soaring, operatic vibrato, played by B E Wong.

The wonderful set from John Lee Beatty is deceptively simple aided by imaginative lighting from Ken Billington while William Ivey Long has worked wonders with the costumes . . . sex sewn into every stitch.

Put it all together with a superb supporting ensenble and you have a show that carries you along on a risque rollercoaster of fun, which is a dangerous ride for someone of my advanced years with a heart condition, but I wouldn't have missed it, and take my advice, neither should you. To 29-01-22. 

Roger Clarke


Index page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre