Chicago, Bristol Hippodrome

LONG before the line ‘No Sir this is the West, when the legend becomes fact print the legend’, was spoken in John Ford’s 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, the Americans had begun the habit of glorifying dubious characters in their past history.  Men like the multi-murderer William H Bonney, alias Billy the Kid, and train robber and outlaw gang leader Jesse James, are amongst those glamorised by the American media.

Former journalist and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins did not set out to glamorise Beulah Annon, or Belva Gaertner, on whom she based the characters of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in her 1926 play Chicago, but to satirise the legal system in Cook County Illinois which made it far easier for a beautiful young woman to escape the consequence of murder than a plain jane. Despite strong cases against them both of these attractive women were found not guilty of murder.

Composer John Kander, lyricist and co-author of the book Fred Ebb, and the other co-author and director/choreographer Bob Fosse, took the satire even further when they turned Maurine Dallas Watkins play into a musical in 1975. They perfectly captured the sounds, and cynicism of the Jazz Age within a score full of memorable numbers that stay in the mind, and movement full of fun and sexual implications.

That is quite an act to follow, and it says much for this new recreation of the show that so much of that original exciting presentation is still in place. At the heart of the production, in every way, they are seated centre stage throughout the show,  is Andrew Hilton and his ten piece orchestra. They fall on the score like schoolboys let loose after three hours in detention bringing the Jazz Age alive with joyful abandon.

There may be a few inches in height between former Coronation Street inhabitant Faye Brookes (Roxie Hart) and the statuesque Djalenga Scott (Velma Kelly) but they spend the evening musically slugging it out eye to eye making the most of a host of great numbers ending with the memorable duet, Nowadays.

Often, they and Liam Marcellino, a more than adequate stand-in for the indisposed Russell Watson, as the slick con-man lawyer Billy Flynn, had the benefit of the support of a hard working all singing, all dancing ensemble, who also found the time and talents to portray all the supporting characters.

Slipping into the story almost unnoticed at times came BE Wong, as the easily hoodwinked “lady’journalist Mary Sunshine, Sheila Ferguson as the hard-hearted matron Mama Morton, and Roxie’s soft-hearted gullible husband Amos, played with great tenderness by Jamie Baughan. Three very different characters, three very different vocal opportunities, all accepted and put over in fine style by each of this trio.

With a few changes of cast the production is due  at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth from 14th to 18th June, and the New Theatre Cardiff between 20th and 25th June.


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