By Milan Perera, Second Year English
Premiered in 1975 on Broadway and the subject of numerous productions including the blockbuster movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere, ‘Chicago’ enjoys a cult status. What’s not to like about the latest production of Chicago? The sensational dance routines, hummable musical numbers and the nostalgic razzmatazz of the jazz age, ‘Chicago’ has stamped its mark as an all-time musical theatre classic with an enduring legacy.
The press night for ‘Chicago’ at the Bristol Hippodrome hit the stage without the leading male cast, the chart topping operatic tenor, Russell Watson as Billy Flynn due to ill health. There were murmurs of disbelief among the keen theatregoers who especially came to see Mr. Watson as the smooth talking Chicago lawyer. But as the evening progressed it was abundantly clear that such trepidations were unfounded as the understudy, Liam Marcellino stepped up to the challenge with aplomb. As Billy Flynn he radiated the unmistakable charm, the chutzpah and the ruthless streak associated with the mobster lawyer.
'Chicago' is the magnum opus of the iconic creative duo, the composer John Kander and the lyricist, Fred Ebb which proved to be an immediate hit at the Broadway and West End. The beautifully crafted jazz numbers of Kander coupled with the sharp wit of Ebb captured the imagination of generations of theatre goers. The burnished sheen of the musical is undoubtedly the spellbinding choreography devised by the late Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse.
The story is set in Chicago in the 1920s. In this pervasive atmosphere of decadence and ebullience a certain Roxie Hart murders her on-the-side lover after he threatens to walk out on her. To avoid a murder conviction she dupes the public and the scandal-savvy media by hiring Chicago’s most sought after criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn. There is a jealousy, resentment, double-crossings and occasional sincerity, a perfect concoction for a drama.
‘Chicago’ does not belong to the main three characters as the cast includes numerous schemers, swindlers, femme fatales, petty criminals and the occasional innocent got caught in the crossfire. Jamie Baughan who played Amos Hart perfectly captured the persona of the long suffering husband of Roxy Hart, an adulteress and murderer. His teary monologues of misfortunes engendered sympathy and unprompted applause from the audience.
Sheila Ferguson who is a bona fide showbiz royalty with legendary status under her belt with the 70s chart topping act, The Three Degrees played the firm but loving character Matron "Mama" Morton with panache. Her signature number ‘When you’re good to Mama’ had the audience enthralled as she she sang the soaring high notes with ease.
B E Wong who played Mary Sunshine, the overtly inquisitive journalist had the audience in stitches as he ripped the top to reveal his washboard abs while pointing out ‘It’s not all what it seems’ with a glint in his eyes.
But what a sensational pair Faye Brookes and Djalenga Scot has been? They played the titular characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly with charisma, charm and unmistakable stage presence which delighted the adoring audience. Their dance routines were high octane, brimming with raw sensual energy. Their stunning vocals which effortlessly captured the volatile personalities of Hart and Kelly brought the house down. Both their solo numbers and duets were sensational with a mercurial burnish which were delivered with effortless ease. Numbers such as ‘My Own Best Friend’, ‘Funny Honey’ and ‘ Nowadays’ went down a treat with the crowd which prompted raucous applause and cheers.
Faye Brookes not only an excellent vocalist but gifted with an unmistakable comedic timing as she infused rip-roaring humour into numbers such as ‘Roxie – the name on Everyone’s lips.’
Scott’s number with the cast, ‘All That Jazz’ set the tone for an evening rollicking jazz standards, glitter, glamour and feathers.
Liam Marcellino’s portrayal of Billy Flynn was a triumph that achieved the fine equilibrium between a charming lawyer adored by the ladies in feathers and a calculated mover and shaker of the criminal underbelly. His comedic skills were apparent too; the sequence where his delightfully sleazy Billy Flynn uses Roxie as a ventriloquist’s dummy in ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’ engendered peals of laughter.
The orchestra led by Andrew Filton took the centre stage as opposed to being confined to the orchestral pit. Filton is not only a fine musician but also a gifted entertainer who seamlessly joined the cast as the story unfolded. He famously broke the fourth wall and interacted with the thoroughly entertained audience who were demanding for an encore. The orchestral sound of the jazz band was polished and bright as the opulence of the jazz age of Chicago. The spirited tempi kept the audience constantly tapping and clapping.
The prolonged applause after the curtain call was sign of approval from a thoroughly entertained audience.
Featured Image:Tristram Kenton / ATG Media
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