CHICAGO: Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly and The Company. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Venue: Milton Keynes Theatre
Performance Date: 08 March 2022
Reviewer: Josh Bullin
Star Rating: ★★★★
There are few musicals quite as enduring as Chicago. This year marks twenty-five years since the original Encores! revival transferred to London and cumulatively ran for around sixteen years, spawning multiple UK-wide tours alongside it. The production currently playing at Milton Keynes Theatre is the latest iteration of this staging, recreating the minimalist style and using Ann Reinking’s same Bob Fosse-inspired choreography. One may argue it’s a show crying out for a new interpretation, but as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The simple but striking staging could render the show stagnant if not backed up by capable performers. Thankfully, from the orchestra’s first notes and Djalenga Scott’s assured opening performance of the iconic ‘All That Jazz’, it is clear that the audience is in very safe hands. Scott sets the tone for this raucously cynical tale of celebrity criminals, where notoriety from the press means everything, even if you’ve got to take out a few lovers and end up in prison along the way. She performs the iconic part of the vaudevillian murderess, Velma Kelly, with great ease, nailing every quip, dance move, and note.
She is equally matched by Coronation Street’s Faye Brookes as the fame-hungry Roxie Hart, who brings a manic edge to the character, selling her ditsy desperation that grows into a more sinister confidence as she pursues vaudeville stardom at any cost. Any hesitation that lingers in her rendition of ‘Roxie’ is vanquished by the time she is joyfully singing ‘Me and My Baby’, the press and audience in the palm of her hand alike. The leading duo’s dynamic does make one yearn for a version of the show where their relationship is as fleshed out as in the 2002 film adaptation, but regardless, they sparkle together in the time they have battling it out to win both fame and freedom.
The cracks in the show’s book are most evident as it races to its conclusion with very little room for air. Yet it hardly seems significant when the truly masterful score of John Kander and Fred Ebb is erupting from the on-stage orchestra, conducted beautifully by Andrew Hilton. The orchestra is undoubtedly this version’s staging master-stroke, transforming the stage into a timeless cabaret-esque venue where every character is rendered a vaudeville performer, regardless of whether they are one within the show’s universe. This vibe is assisted by the variety of slinky, sheer costumes donned by the ensemble, as well as the orchestra’s active participation in the proceedings.
When the score combines with the precision of the excellent ensemble, the numbers sizzle with slick and sensual energy that truly brings the musical to its greatest highs. One is the always rapturous marionette number, ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’, to which the show’s current Billy Flynn, Russell Watson, adds effective operatic flourishes, bringing it to a barnstorming finish. Moreover, Roxie’s climactic court sequence is a triumph of perfectly executed gags, choreography, and direction that further proves why this interpretation has lived on.
This production may not reinvent the wheel, but when the wheel runs this smoothly, it hardly matters. The stars, musicians, and sexy ensemble all combine to create a polished night of musical theatre that indeed proves why Chicago remains a titan.
Runs until: 12 March 2022 at Milton Keynes, and on Tour