As the opening line of the musical proudly boosts, Chicago is about “…murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery”. Before Chicago was made into a musical, it was a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins in 1926, who used her crime reporting experience to satirise ’20s women becoming celebrities for being accused of murder. It was then produced as a silent film in 1927, with another adaptation entitled Roxie Hart in 1942. Chicago was developed as a musical by Bob Fosse, a director and choreographer, on the suggestion of his wife and actress, Gwen Verdon.
The musical tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who were real life murderesses. The show is set in Chicago in the ’20s when the city was run by gangsters, jazz was the sound and prohibition was in full swing. At the time, there was a string of females who were made famous by committing murder – they were celebrity criminals. These women received press attention, making front page headlines and receiving desirable job offers because of the publicity.
Roxie Hart shoots and kills her lover, Fred Casely, for walking out on her. Amos, Roxie’s husband, who she manipulates and controls like a puppet and he remains loyal to her even though she is running around on him, is given a story to tell the police in the hope they will be deceived and she will be off the hook for her crime. However, he fluffs the story and she is arrested. In jail, she meets a vaudeville dancer, Velma Kelly, along with several other ‘celebrity criminals’.
Roxie is introduced to a high-price and highly successful lawyer, Billy Flynn, by Mama Morton. He specialises in corrupting justice by performing a circus act in the courtroom. Roxie doesn’t have the $5000 his services cost and so manipulates her ever-loyal Amos into getting it for her. He is the orchestrator of the mass-deceit of the jury during Roxie’s trial, and creates ‘context’ and ‘grounds’ for her crime and paints her a press image of a likeable and much wronged, weak female when in fact she is benefitting from her crime and enjoying her new-found fame.
In the end, Roxie goes free and is deserted by her husband and by Billy, but she is more devastated by no longer being ‘big news’ with the press, who have moved on to their latest sensational murder story. The show ends with Roxie and Velma forming a jazz double act.
Chicago is currently on a tour of the UK. The show debuted on Broadway in 1975 before opening in the West End four years later.
In this production, Roxie Hart is played by Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale (TV), Mamma Mia, Fame), who gives a wonderful performance of ‘Me and My Baby’.
Velma Kelly is played by Sophie Carmen-Jones (Jersey Boys, Wicked, We Will Rock You) and she gives an all-round fantastic performance and steals the show. Carmen-Jones is a wonderful dancer and delivers a great rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’. She stands out in the ‘Cell Block Tango’ number during which the arrested women tell the audience who they killed and why they did it.
John Partridge (Cats, Miss Saigon, A Chorus Line) played Billy Flynn with charm and swagger. His performance of ‘All I Care About’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ was excellent.
Mama Morton is played by Sam Bailey (X Factor winner (TV), Dick Whittington), who performs ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ and a duet with Carmen-Jones singing ‘Class’.
The ensemble were all fabulous, dancing perfectly in sync and with incredible style and swagger.
Overall, it is a very good show and has a sexy and seductive vibe. Chicago is touring the UK into October 2016, showing in over 20 cities. For more information and full tour listings visit the musical’s website: http://chicagothemusical.com/uktour.php We hope to see the show back in the West End very soon.