Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
There are few more intoxicatingly enticing ways to begin a production than that of Chicago; “Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” Ebb and Bob Fosse’s Chicago places these seductive scintillations at the very beating heart of their production, and with John Kander’s killer (pun intended) score, it has gone on to be a staple of musical theatre, the industry, and a juggernaut representation of vaudeville and brand the merry murderesses as icons of the stage.
But the idea that a killer – a murderer, could find themselves glorified and celebrated by the media at large could never stretch into the realms of reality… right? Well, the razzle-dazzle of the roaring twenties concealed many a secret, and for nightclub dancer and housewife Roxie Hart it couldn’t hide the murder of her lover after he threatens to leave. Convicted, desperate and hungry, Roxie fools the media and rival cellmate, Velma Kelly, by capturing the tabloids attention with the help of slick criminal lawyer Billy Flynn for both her life, and a small profit.
Luxurious and refined, Andrew Hilton’s musical direction and John Lee Beatty’s staging matches the seamless transitions and unfolding action before the audience; a gilded frame holding the splendour of the show before us – reminding us that not only is theatre back, but it’s also back in a big way. With the live band onstage gifted the rightful level of attention as dance and vocal performers, the score and songs of the production leave as wealthy an impact as the lead performances of Faye Brookes and Djalenga Scott as Roxie and Velma.
Firecrackers, lashing with drive and enthusiasm, the pair remind us of the exhilaration of live in-person performance and the value of tight choreography and whispers of vaudeville influences. Brooke’s expressive demeanour and playfully false demure are infectious to witness, a different Roxy than the more bombastic one’s others have brought to the role, and a welcome one. Her chemistry with Darren Day’s Billy Flynn thankfully has a measureless intimacy and flirtation that previous renditions, their synchronicity during We Both Reached for the Gun is a stroke of brilliance on Brooke’s animated part.
Ignoring the arbitrary and conceited wolf whistles, Djalenga Scott captures the space within moments with presence, as well as appeal. A commanding figure who poses a sense of character and sincerity underneath the talent. Showcasing Bob Fosse and Anne Reinking’s choreography to the fullest, Scott and the ensemble transform the visual splendour of William Ivey Long’s costume into mesmeric artistry, guaranteed to raise the blood pressure in the room. Vocally, the cast matches the physicality, both Brookes and Scott turning in solid vocals, Scott striking out with efficacious control and delivering an unstoppable Cell Block Tango.
And not to be left behind, UK Drag Race superstar Divina De Campo struts out with a deliberate, measured performance as Mary Sunshine, a certain degree of class found within, and a killer reveal to embolden the audience. Looking right through Joel Montague may be tricky to achieve, but Mr Cellophane himself reminds audiences of the calibre of West End talent away from the big celebrity names. Reserved, but with a measure of humour and comic timing, Montague steals the audience’s hearts as the bemused and overlooked Amos, Roxie’s husband and patsy.
The pair also provides an additional dimension of the unseen or ignored, enhancing John Kander and Fred Ebb’s story threads, which for as engaging and sinfully delicious as the characters isn’t the most diverse or intense of narratives. And it’s a subtlety required against the glitz and sparkle, a more human performance than the stock, though enjoyable, the performance of Darren Day capturing the slickness of Flynn, delivering the right notes, but maintaining a by-the-numbers routine of the character.
Chicago sets out to source the spectacle in indulgence and the thrill of fame but cautions to the cost of seeking it through dangerous means and the futility of guilt. After all, if it’s what you wanted to do at the time – then what’s the point of guilt? The only thing Chicago can plead to its innocence is a superb and sassy scoring, touching audiences’ hearts, dancing shoes and other unmentionables… It shines the Razzle Dazzle of musical theatre back into Edinburgh, shaking up the dust and rattling the cages of the bold, the rambunctious and the forgotten.
Chicago runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until October 2nd. Book tickets here.