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25th May 2022

Review: Chicago

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy reviews Chicago at Manchester Opera House, starring Faye Brookes and Sheila Ferguson
Review: Chicago
Djalenga Scott and Faye Brookes in Chicago. Photo: ©Tristram Kenton.

Sex, murder, and all that jazzChicago is not only one of the biggest musicals of all time, it’s also one of the raunchiest, the funniest, and the bestest.

Based on the play of the same name, written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual crimes she reported on, Chicago tells the sensational and salacious tale of two fame-hungry criminals who weaponise their celebrity to evade justice, escape prison, and achieve stardom.

I first saw the musical back in 2016, after previously seeing the film adaptation. Whilst the film is a visual feast – a celebration of colour that puts the grandeur into Roxie’s delusions of grandeur – the stage adaptation is very simple. There is no set, save for two ladders and a few props. Instead, the actors – dressed exclusively in black and white – perform at the front of the stage, with the incredible orchestra on tiered seating at the back of the stage.

It’s a nice change having the orchestra onstage, but the sacrifice is no elaborate set – like the ones you see in, well, every big musical. There is something refreshing (subversive, even, given the themes of the musical) about Chicago‘s simplicity. Its brilliance is arguably in its simplicity. The lack of a set puts the spotlight (literally) on the actors and draws your focus on to their sultry moves and tremendous dancing; you simply cannot be distracted by anything else.

The lack of set does become a tiny bit tiresome. You’re basically just watching one performance after another – with a few bits of dialogue – with nothing that interesting going on in the background. I’m not criticising the creative decision – for the most part, I think it works brilliantly – but it does have a (small) downside.

That said, I think the movie does it better – with a dull, grey palette for the “real” scenes and an explosion of colour for the musical numbers. The musical numbers all take place in Roxie’s mind – obsessed with showbusiness and eager to get out of prison, she imagines the other characters performing onstage.

The best part about the stage musical is, of course, the dancing – choreographed by none other than Bob Fosse. It speaks for itself.

The cast was faultless. Faye Brookes (Coronation Street, Dancing On Ice – runner-up) was fantastic as Roxie. She brought a devilish sass to the role. I definitely preferred her portrayal over her Corrie co-star Hayley Tamaddon’s take on the role – her Roxie was so annoying that she was verging on unlikeable.

Sheila Ferguson – best known for being the former lead singer of the Three Degrees but also known for her many TV appearances, including I’m a Celeb – played Matron “Mama” Morton. I love the Three Degrees and had been so excited to see Ferguson in White Christmas before she dropped out – so it was fantastic finally seeing her onstage! She might be in her 70s, but the soul sensation still has a delightful voice.

Whilst Djalenga Scott (Trapped) usually plays Velma – not the musical’s main character but certainly its “star” – we had the marvellous Michelle Andrews. (Note: the article’s featured image features Scott alongside Brookes).

In most cities, male lead Billy Flynn is played by a celebrity. The tour is currently in between two celebrities, though, so ensemble member Liam Marcellino played Flynn. All I can say – when you’ve got Marcellino, who needs a celebrity?!

Jamie Baughan was excellent as the loveable, pathetic Amos, and B.E. Wong was superb as Mary Sunshine, with all of her hilarious harmonies – and that hilarious revelation!

The most marvellous monochrome musical you’ll ever see, you simply must get yourself a ticket – it would be criminal to miss it! Then again, is that so bad? Who says that murder’s not an art?

Chicago plays at Manchester Opera House from 23rd until 28th May, before continuing its UK tour until July. Manchester is Ferguson’s last stop on the tour – and after only the first night, she told me that she thanks Manchester for humbling her in her last week of this amazing musical.

Whilst Gemma Collins was supposed to be taking over the role of Mama in a few days time, she has just pulled out of the tour. Colour me shocked.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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