Thursday, 20 August 2009

Chicago ***1/2

Lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Her Majesty’s Theatre, from August 20, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Shimmy those shoulders and shake that ass – Chicago is here. It is a lusty, energetic production based on the New York concert version directed by Walter Bobbie. The score echoes the sounds of the razzamatazz, jazz era of the 20s, the band is tight as a drum and the costumes even tighter. The dancing is hot and sexy and the leads, Caroline O’Connor and Sharon Millerchip, are vivacious.

Ann Reinking’s choreography incorporates Bob Fosse-inspired moves: thrusting pelvises, swivelling hips, tilted bowler hats and staccato changes.

The band perches on a huge, tiered area that looks like a courtroom. This focuses attention on the musicians and Vanessa Scammell even conducts from the judge’s box and participates in the narrative occasionally –and awkwardly. The dance and character action is confined to a narrow, downstage apron that is too restrictive and too much black in the set swallows the actors.

O’Connor and Millerchip are physically like matching tiny, impish moppets. So alike are they, that the usual contrast between number one murderess, Velma, and her new competition, Roxie, gets a little lost although this does not detract from either performance.

O’Connor boasts a bold, distinctive voice, superlative dancing and hilarious clowning. Her opening number, All That Jazz, is raunchy and commanding and her comic skills are highlighted in I Can’t Do It Alone.

Millerchip is a pert and cheeky Roxie. In her song, Roxie, she captures the ditzy, murdering bimbo whose ambition to be famous drives her to extremes, and she fires on all cylinders dancing with Roxie’s boys in Me and My Baby.

Class, the duet O’Connor sings with Gina Riley as Mama Moreton, is classy. Their voices blend perfectly and they don’t mess with the song but allow the witty lyrics to do their work. Riley’s rich, resonant voice fills the theatre in When You’re Good to Mama.

Cell Block Tango is a tasty scene featuring Velma and five other murderesses declaring their innocence while singing, “He had it coming”. Damien Bermingham is charming as Amos, Roxie’s simple, loyal husband. Craig McLachlan underplays Billy Flynn, the attractive, oily defence lawyer who lines his pocket while promising innocent verdicts. McLachlan’s vocal style is not a good fit and Razzle Dazzle, Billy’s big number, lacks the spectacle and pizzazz it needs.

This production needs more space for the action and the rhythm of the show falters occasionally, perhaps because it has been running interstate for months. But the music and the two leads carry us on a wild and sassy ride.

By Kate Herbert

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