Theatre, still recovering from economic and talent loss, following Covid-19 is understandably taking a safe approach to productions. The more experimental productions can wait until 2022 because audiences don’t want to take risks with their health and finances and producers need to make up for a big financial hit.
The revival of Chicago in a tour of the UK, Ireland and brief stop in Dubai is incredibly safe but this production is bringing the West glitz and glamour to regional theatres, which desperately need to see the return of audiences. Firstly it hasn’t made any major changes to the essence of Chicago; a prison drama without much prison but lots of sex and glamour with excellent musical and dance numbers and secondly a strong cast from Faye Brookes as Roxie Hart, Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly and additional support from Sinitta as Mama Morton, Darren Day as Billy Flynn and Joel Montague as Amos Hart.
Chicago is ultimately a musical about celebrity and immorality in the roaring twenties that is still relevant in the 2020s. Hart shoots her lover dead when he ends the affair and tries to get her husband to take the blame. The press’s excitement for a new murder case pushes Velma Kelly, a lowly vaudeville performer, who killed her husband and sister, to the back pages and her freedom and representation from celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn looks less and less guaranteed. The highlights are when Scott and Brookes get together for songs such as My Own Best Friend and Nowadays but both performers hold their own in solo numbers and it is key for this musical to succeed that you find Roxie and Velma charismatic.
Chicago probably doesn’t seem that empowering. It has lots of young men and women in revealing outfits but its origins come from a female journalist, Maurine Watkins, who wrote the play in 1926 that would become the Kander and Ebb version we know today. Watkins was frustrated with the sexism of the justice system where “Pretty Girls Get Free, Ugly Ones Sent to Pen” but as a journalist she relished in the prohibition era scandals herself to sell newspapers. Newspapers don’t sell as much today but anyone who has watched a true crime documentary will tell you crime still pays.
Chicago is at the Churchill Theatre until 27 November https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-chicago-bromley-2021 and touring until 2022 https://chicagothemusical.com/international-tour/