“Nothing stays in fifty years or so, it’s gonna change you know”
The thrills of Kander & Ebb’s iconic work Chicago became somewhat lost as the show grew into a stalwart long runner in London’s West End, turning to an unending procession of stunt casting moves to keep the crowds coming. But though I’m a great fan of the show, the temptation to go and see it again was never there, not even as it closed, the innate razzle-dazzle had gone missing. So the prospect of a brand new production at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by bright young thing Drew McOnie, raised hopes that it might be back.
And boy is it ever. The Curve has been home to some excellent musicals during Kerryson’s tenure and Chicago is right up there with the best, as a vibrant recasting of the familiar elements of the show infused with a fresh vitality that literally sparks off the stage. Away from the faux glamour of the latest evictee from the jungle or fading Hollywood star, the focus on genuine musical theatre talent restores an integrity to the show which allows it Kerryson to really play up the viciously biting satire of sensation-hungry audiences which is as relevant today as it ever was.
The ensemble is simply excellent. Verity Rushworth’s visceral Velma Kelly and Gemma Sutton’s playfully dangerous Roxie Hart are phenomenal, sucking us into the gin-soaked seediness of their worlds and almost, almost, offering up a rationale for their actions. Sandra Marvin stirs the soul as well as the cells as Mama Morton, Matthew Barrow’s hapless Amos is affecting, Adam Bailey makes for a memorable Mary Sunshine and David Leonard’s Billy Flynn revels in the role of the ringmaster, the slick and seductive Billy Flynn, the one most in control of the circus-like chaos.
Creatively though, the show is also inspired. Al Parkinson’s bravely minimalist design makes fabulous use of Philip Gladwell’s hugely effective lighting, takis’ costumes make great use of the honed physiques of the cast and the band, coming in and out of view as they do, flourish under the baton of Ben Atkinson. But it’s the choreography one remembers and McOnie cleverly updates and refreshes rather than going for wholesale change, using the circus theme particularly well with ropes aplenty and demanding an exhilarating physicality which is impeccably delivered.