Give me some old ‘Razzle Dazzle‘ and I’m a happy man. When CHICAGO comes to town you know you’re in for something really special. Anything that has been winding its way around the country, actually let’s make that the world, for 43 years has to be doing something right, and this powerhouse of a musical most certainly is.
I was trying to work out why we love Chicago so much and what keeps us coming back for more, year after year. It is of course the great story, incredible songs we all know and love, and dancing which is second to none. But more than that, it’s a show where you are made to feel a real part of whats happening on the stage.
As I was driving to the New Theatre in Cardiff, where the show is running through till Saturday, I was remembering the previous occasions I’d seen the show (and there’s been a few). Each time there’s been a very different mix of cast members, and I think that’s the answer too. It’s the new take we get on these characters that keeps the show fresh and vibrant.
Then of course there’s the audience. As I looked around the auditorium there was clearly people who make a regular pilgrimage to the show, but there was also newbies, those who are seeing it for the first time. I smiled, a little envious, knowing they were about to have the best two and a half hours of their musical theatre life.
So let’s begin with the audience at opening night in Cardiff, still buzzing after a huge standing ovation. We got the ladies to give us their take on last nights performance……
The musical may be celebrating its Opal anniversary(43 years) but this gem of a story goes way, way back, to the mid 1920s to be exact, which is the period the musical is set – in the razzle-dazzle decadence of the 1920s, Chicago (unsurprisingly).
It tells the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and nightclub dancer who murders her on-the-side lover after he threatens to walk out on her. Desperate to avoid conviction, she dupes the public, the media and her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly, by hiring Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer to transform her malicious crime into a barrage of sensational headlines.
Can you imagine if we’d had a case like this today, it would be all over the socials, TV, internet – oh yes, that all sounds very familiar doesn’t it? Incidentally, this is a real life story from back in the 20s, and is based on a 1926 play by Maurine Watkins. Obviously we now have the addition of singing, dancing and an amazing ten-piece band.
We have one hell of a cast on the Cardiff stage this week, but be in no doubt, Chicago is a real ‘company’ piece, and boy are the company something special on this tour.
When you get into the auditorium there’s a spotlight shining on an empty chair, which gets everyone chattering prior to the start. When the curtain is raised and the Chicago stage revealed, it is pretty stripped back and bare, but it is the most perfect setting for what is to follow. When the music strikes, played by an incredible band, the dancing begins and we are given some of the greatest songs in any musical. From the get-go the show high-kicks off with ‘All That Jazz‘ and for the next two and a half hours we have show-stopper after box office smash. Each song gives you that inner ‘YES‘ as the familiar hits keep coming.
Even if you’ve never seen Chicago, either on stage or the OSCAR winning movie, you’ll know more of the tunes than you realise. ‘Razzle Dazzle‘, ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’, ‘Cell Block Tango‘ – one of my favourites, and ‘Mr Cellophane‘, performed superbly by JAMIE BAUGHAN who is Roxie’s husband Amos Hart.
He is magnificent as the naïve hubby who continues to let Roxie walk all over him to help get her out of jail. He does get some of the biggest laughs, but you also feel his pain as he sings about his incurable invisibility.
Chicago has created some iconic characters, none more than Roxie Hart. It’s one of those roles that every female actor wants to get her teeth into. She has made bigger stars of the already famous. The likes of Pamela Anderson have tackled her in America recently, while here in Cardiff we are blessed to have the multi-talented FAYE BROOKES in the lead role.
You may have seen Corrie favourite Faye on TV many times but let me tell you that on stage she is something else. She brings a new feel to the character I’ve not seen before. Yes, she has a great voice, but it also takes something special to bring the Bob Fosse style choreography to life, Faye definitely brought her ‘Dancing on Ice‘ experience to the stage and more than achieved that.
She is really funny to, with incredible comic timing.
BRENDA EDWARDS was in Cardiff recently in Hairspray, and after the challenges of the last few months it is so good to see her back doing what she does best. From where I was sat there was a moment of excitement as she came onto the stage and it took great restraint for a lot of the audience not to burst into spontaneous applause.
As Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, the top dog in prison, she excels, particularly when she belts out ‘When You’re Good to Mama‘. Chicago has a reputation for occasionally breaking the fourth wall, ‘Mama’ is the mistress of this.
LEE MEAD is another stage regular who suits up as Billy Flynn, the charismatic, flamboyant lawyer, who twists the truth to win the cases for his clients – Roxy being one of them. Billy is a smooth-talking, confident and manipulative character, something I’ve not seen Lee play before. He fills that dinner suit very well and is a great Billy – a far cry from his Lofty Chiltern days in Casualty.
DJALENGA SCOTT is Velma Kelly, who killed her sister and husband after catching them in bed together. Djalenga is one incredible dancer and is completely mesmerising to watch. When she’s together with Faye and Brenda however, they really steal the show. The singing, dancing and charisma is second to none.
Each of the main characters got to shine and the chemistry between them is magical. This is however an ensemble piece and a show where everyone gets to show their best. The orchestra, who are on stage from start to finish are outstanding under the direction of ANDREW HILTON who is a very active and vocal part of the story. The performers, are sleek and sexy and each a talent in their own right. Add to that the most vocal and enthusiastic South Wales audience you’ll find anywhere and you have a perfect night out.
I do want to mention to B E WONG who gives a bit of a stand-out performance as Mary Sunshine – the voice is almost as surprising as the surprise itself. No more to be said, go see the show and you’ll get what I mean.
The cast also include Ishmail Aaron, Michelle Andrews, Delycia Belgrave, Joel Benjamin, Tanisha-Mae Brown, Callum Fitzgerald, Emily Goodenough, Billie Hardy, Aaron Jenkins, Liam Marcellino, Theo Reece, Hollie Jane Stephens, Harrison Wilde, Daniel Clift (Dance Captain) and Gabby Antrobus (who is also Assistant Dance Captain).
Chicago never fails to deliver in every sense. The atmosphere really captures the essence of the roaring twenties and it’s just verging on sleazy nightclub feel. You literally can’t take your eyes off the stage. I do want to come back to the orchestra once more and say just how much I love their involvement in the show, as you saw in our review, the audience loved them too.
Whether you’ve seen Chicago previously or not at all, it would be criminal to miss it in Cardiff this week. It’s as sleek, sexy, and powerfully passionate as anything you’ll see on the New Theatre stage. Your razzle will be well and truly dazzled and I would urge you to grab yourself a ticket while it’s here.
CHICAGO THE MUSICAL is at the New Theatre in Cardiff through to Saturday 25th June. Tuesday to Saturday performances are at 7:30pm with 2:30pm matinees Wednesday to Saturday. Tickets range from £19 to £260 if you fancy a box, with various concessions along the way. You can get your tickets NEW THEATRE.
You can also check out our original feature HERE.