An 'energetic, optimistic phenomenon' - Chicago @ the Winston Theatre


By George Ruskin, first year French and German

This ★★★★★ performance from Musical Theatre Bristol (MTB) kept the frenzied audience screaming for more. Snappy choreography, eccentric character work and creative autonomy win over the packed audience on their opening night.

MTB / Laura Travis

MTB’s resplendent production of Chicago blows away the February cobwebs, bringing the razzle dazzle in spades to the Winston Theatre. Supported by a hyperactive audience – the likes of which I have never seen on an opening night – the cast trip the light fantastic, missing not a beat, step or cue.

Each and every number is flawlessly choreographed and executed, and the lack of visible first-night nerves and slip-ups is testament to an extremely polished cast. The opening iconic number ‘And All That Jazz’ introduces our beaming, catty ensemble for the first time. Throughout, it was mesmerising to watch their visceral facial expressions, and their musical and balletic professionalism kept the frenzied audience screaming for more.

MTB / Laura Travis

It was clear that creative autonomy had been granted to every cast-member and their ad lib comedic cameos incited howls of laughter from the stalls. A personal highlight is the rancorous ‘Cellblock Tango’ featuring my favourite line ‘some guys just can’t handle their arsenic.’ Six cat-suited inmates recount their versions of events in truly mellifluous style, aided in their yarn-spinning by the superb dancing of the male ensemble.

As we met our principal cast throughout the first half, whenever I thought I had found my favourite character, a new personality would belt-out their own incredible opening number. The truth is that every cast member brought their own unique brand of twenties Chicagoan sleaze to the performance, rendering favouritism impossible.

MTB / Laura Travis

Matriarchal Matron “Mama” Morton (Lowri Howell) dominates the stage in her scenes, and the twisted maternal pride of her murderess detainees is fascinating to witness. Billy Flynn (Harry Nicholson), hot-shot lawyer and paradigm of 1920s avarice, is extremely well received as he joined a line of showgirls, bewaistcoated, in his rip-roaring number ‘All I Care About.’ The arrival of the alluring Mary Sunshine (Ali Manclark), a character blown in from Little Britain, steals the show, as – ginger wig and all – she belts out her aria, reaching impressive vocal highs. The previously low-key Amos (Ben White) comes into his own throughout, evoking audible sympathy from the audience with the ruefully self-pitying ‘Mr Cellophane’ – the real victim of the zeitgeist of cantankerous greed and egocentricity, personified by the pitiable silence to which he departed, especially in comparison to the brash exit numbers of his co-stars.

MTB / Laura Travis

Chicago’s prima donnae, Roxie (Adèle Carr) and Velma (Charlotte Bartholomew), undeniably steal the show with their conceited characterisation, bitchy put-downs and catty competitiveness. Roxie truly was the name on the audience’s lips by the end, and she is deserving of her name in lights. Their duet ‘My Own Best Friend’ knocked it out of the park. They are sensational throughout, which is a difficult brief for two characters who cannot be too hyperbolic, and their stamina to retain such levels of extra is an example to all actors.

The standing-ovation that Chicago received tells you far more about this performance than I ever could. The director, Luke Silverman, described this as a “passion project” for him, and this is immediately discernible through the intricacy and energy in every scene, in every expressive facial veneer, and in every flamboyant movement. Chicago is the energetic, optimistic phenomenon for which this time of year cries out.

MTB's Chicago runs until Sat 23rd Febuary at the Winston Theatre.


(Featured image credits: MTB / Laura Travis)

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