Review: Chicago, Capitol Theatre (NSW/VIC/QLD)

Lynne Lancaster

A sexy and thought-provoking production that shows the dark side of the American dream.
Review: Chicago, Capitol Theatre (NSW/VIC/QLD)

Alinta Chidzey and company in Chicago the musical, Sydney. Image: Jeff Busby.

Sleek, slick, cynical, sexy and sophisticated, the classic musical Chicago is back in town to delight us.

Chicago the musical premiered in 1975 and it’s been scandalising and thrilling audiences worldwide ever since. It is based on the 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins who fictionalised actual crimes and criminals she had reported on. This current production, overseen by resident director Karen Johnson, is based on the 1996 New York staging by director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Ann Reinking, as was the 2009 version we saw in Sydney. The orchestra (here excellently led by Daniel Edmonds) is imagined as part of the set, a tilted golden picture frame on a steep rake – which could possibly also reference a jury box, and augments the Brechtian distancing breaking through the fourth wall, such as the announcements of the various numbers.

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The musical concentrates on Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two women accused of murder who vie for publicity as much as their own freedom. The concept of the celebrity criminal was relevant both in the 1920s when the show is set and today. Roxie Hart has allegedly shot her lover three times. When her husband Amos refuses to be the fall guy for the murder, Roxie is sent to the county jail which is run by an ostensibly kindly overseer, Matron Mama Morton, but her solicitude is only available if you can afford it.

The ensemble is in fine form, crisply and tightly choreographed with the Fosse-style choreography sinuous and the trademark moves and hands down pat. Cell Block Tango, for example, sizzles as we learn the stories of the others on death row under Mamma Morton’s care.

Tall, blonde Natalie Bassingthwaighte brings Roxie to life as a beautiful schemer, villainous, egotistical and avaricious underneath her seemingly dumb exterior. All she wants is to become famous. Petite, dark haired Velma is portrayed by Alinta Chidzey as a firecracker – brash, sexy and worried about her showbiz career.

Suave and hypocritical lawyer Billy Flynn is charismatically played by Tom Burlinson, who delivers a rousing speech, his voice mesmerising the courtroom. And yes, his courtroom appearance is all about throwing sequins in the eyes of the jury to dazzle them.

Roxie’s polite, frustrated husband Amos is superbly and sympathetically portrayed by Rodney Dobson, bringing the house down with his Mr Cellophane solo.

As Matron ‘Mamma’ Morton, Casey Donovan is warm with a dangerous edge, especially in the delivery of her signature solo When You’re Good to Mama – and oh, what a glorious powerful voice!

Somewhat ditzy and ever optimistic Mary Sunshine is played by tall, elegant J Furtado with a magnificent operatic mezzo voice.

This production is as engaging, modern, thought-provoking and sexy as ever. We see both sides of the American dream – ambition fuelled by lies, lust, avarice and passion, blood and cynicism. (Sound familiar?) It is rather alarming to hear Velma and Roxie’s finale, Nowadays, sung by two characters who have murdered, cheated and deceived on their way to the top, claiming that they are proof that America is a great country – to enthusiastic applause.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Chicago
Music and lyrics: Fred Ebb, John Kander
Book: Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse, John Kander
Director: Walter Bobbie
Cast: Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Amy Berrisford, Tom Burlinson, Alinta Chidzey, Andrew Cook, Todd Dewberry, Rodney Dobson, Samantha Dodemaide, Casey Donovan, Mitchell Fistrovic, J. Furtado, Ben Gillespie, Chaska Halliday, Travis Khan, Hayley Martin, Kristina McNamara, Joe Meldrum, Tom New, Jessica Velluci, Romina Villafranca, Rachael Ward, Zachary Webster, Mitchell Woodcock
20 August-20 October 2019
Capitol Theatre, Sydney NSW
Tickets from $59.90

QPAC Brisbane from November
Arts Centre Melbourne from December

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.