What: Chicago The Musical
Where: The State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Performances run until February 23, 2020
For more information, please visit https://chicagothemusical.com.au/
A truly iconic musical, Chicago has graced the stages of Melbourne many times in the past, but this current revival, just having opened in Melbourne after sell-out runs in both Sydney and Brisbane, will surely rank amongst the very best of them.
A darkly comic tale conceived by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Ebb and Bob Fosse (book) in 1975, Chicago was a hit when first staged but only really attained its iconic status upon a 1996 revival on Broadway, a run that is active to this day, 23 years later.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte as Roxie Hart
A monster hit film adaptation, winning the 2002 Oscar for Best Film, followed, and it is now known as truly one of the most famous and popular musicals of all time.
Set in the 1920s, Chicago is the tale of the sweet and not-so-innocent Roxie Hart (Natalie Bassingthwaighte), who longs for a career in showbiz just like the extravagant Velma Kelly (Alinta Chidzey), but finds herself in the clink after shooting her lover and to her surprise learns that her notoriety is an ideal path to stardom. Enter Billy Flynn (Jason Donovan), a crusading lawyer just as fame hungry as Hart is, who pounces on her case as a way to get his own name in the papers as he turns Roxie’s trial into a three-ring circus.
From the show-stopping opener All That Jazz to the rousing finale, this production is a delight for the senses. The staging is quite unique, with the 15-piece orchestra on-stage throughout, housed in a framed structure and frequently interacting with the cast, a device that adds some clever moments of humour, particularly when Roxie wanders over to proudly show the musical team the newspaper headlines about her.
Chicago has no shortage of scene-stealers, and both Casey Donovan, as the kindly prison warden Mama Morton, and Rodney Dobson, as Roxie’s sad-sack husband Amos, shine in two smaller but no less memorable roles, with both actors knocking it out of the park.
Alinta Chidzey as Velma Kelly
Casey Donovan was a fan favourite on opening night, and received the most rapturous applause of any cast member. Dobson also effortlessly won over the crowd, turning what could have been a one-note character into one with surprising pathos, and his rendition of the sad but sweet Mr Cellophane was a highlight.
Bassingthwaighte, brimming with experience as an actor and singer, is wonderful as Roxie, conveying the perfect mix of vulnerability and brashness that the character demands. Jason Donovan (in a role played by his father Terence back in 1981) is perhaps a bit overshadowed by the rest of the cast, perhaps not as strong vocally as his fellow castmates and coming off as slightly flat in the role.
To be fair though, Tom Burlinson played the part in both the Sydney and Brisbane productions, and Jason is a newcomer to the cast for the Melbourne run, so it’s possible he just needs a bit of time to gel with his castmates and will surely grow into the role as the show’s run progresses.
Jason Donovan as Billy Flynn
My personal favourite number has always been Cell Block Tango, in which Kelly and a group of fellow prisoners explain the violent circumstances that put them in the joint, is done exceptionally well here, with the cast really playing up the darkly comedic tone of the brilliant (and brilliantly catchy) lyrics. Anyone who has seen this will no doubt have “Pop. Six. Squish. Uh-uh. Cicero. Lipschitz” appear in their head at least once after seeing this. A close runner-up is another gem in which Chidzey really shines, a so-called “act of desperation” entitled I Can’t Do It Alone, which is a tour-de-force of choreography and stage presence.
For a show like this, the choreography should wow the audience and this doesn’t disappoint, with all of the principals and the supporting cast absolutely mesmerising with their skill in this department. The energy never flags over the course of 2 1/2 hours, and all of the cast deserve high praise for keeping this a suitably lively experience from start to finish.
If you’ve never seen Chicago before or are an ardent fan, this new production simply demands to be seen. From the dazzling production values to the spirited performances of the entire cast, Chicago is two hours of pure razzle dazzle.
Chicago is now playing at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre until February 23.