The hit musical, Chicago, returns to the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End after almost 15 years and the latest version packs a powerful theatrical punch. With a refreshed cast and plenty of razzle dazzle, the production showcases its enduring appeal once again.
Chicago first hit the stage in 1975, becoming Broadway’s longest-running American musical in history. The West End revival ran for over a decade, winning much critical acclaim and becoming one of the best loved shows in town. After an almost 15-year absence from the district, the latest production has all of the reassuring hallmarks of a classic.
Raunchy choreography, killer outfits and copious jazz hands with plenty of attitude mean that the new version directed by Walter Bobbie is a real crowd pleaser.
Some of the most popular musical songs in all of history were out in full force. These included the much loved ‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and ‘All That Jazz’; all sounded just as fresh and provocative as they always have.
Adding to the Jazz Era atmosphere was the live jazz band, which remained on stage throughout the production as the drama unfolded. Avoiding over-production and over-complicated stage set changes, the talent of the musicians shone through.
Focusing on the story of two Prohibition-era murderesses, many of the themes explored in Chicago are in many ways as relevant now as then. Fake news, an obsession with celebrity culture and murky underbelly of showbiz are just a few that resonate far beyond Jazz Age Illinois.
So much of what makes Chicago so compellingly watchable revolves around the cast and the newest incarnation of the production is no exception.
There were standout performances from Sarah Soetaert as lovable murderess Roxie Hart opposite Chicago veteran Josefina Gabrielle as the hardened Velma Kelly. Soetaert and Gabrielle’s portrayals of strong, feisty but flawed women doing whatever they could to survive the hangman’s noose were an absolute joy to watch. Often a rarity even in modern theatre, it was refreshing to watch a dramatic performance with two women centre-stage.
Adding to the star quality of the cast is Academy Award winning Cuba Gooding Jr. Arriving on stage to loud applause, Gooding Jr most recently played OJ Simpson in the captivating The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. On this occasion though, Gooding Jr plays the defence counsel rather than the accused, bringing charisma and Hollywood glamor to the production. Charming and smooth-talking, Gooding Jr is well cast in the role of slippery lawyer, Billy Flynn despite a fairly average vocal performance during renditions of ‘All I Care About’.
Other notable performances were from Paul Rider who plays Amos Hart, Roxie Hart’s pathetic husband who achieves redemption of sorts by the end. Ruthie Henshall also delivers a compelling portrayal of Matron ‘Madam’ Morton with a fine rendition of ‘When You’re Good to Mama’.
For lovers of Chicago and those new to musical theatre alike, this Broadway and West End classic won’t disappoint. With plenty of sass, sex appeal and star quality, it’s a treat to have this excellent new production back in town.
Words: Cat Rossides
Photos: Tristram Kenton