Chicago – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Rachel Howard, November 2021
My first post-Covid trip to Hull New Theatre begins on a slightly worrying note. As we walk up to the entrance, a long queue of people wraps around the front of the building – something that rarely happened in pre-lockdown days. We were a little concerned… would we get in in time for the start of the show? Was this to be expected at the theatre now? Would we feel safe once we entered the foyer and auditorium? Fortunately, I can put all fears to rest. The queue moves quickly, and is simply to avoid a bottleneck in the foyer and bar area. The show is slightly delayed to allow for everyone to take their seats, so not a moment is missed. Phew! Things are looking up again.
A full house has turned out on a chilly Autumnal evening for the opening night of Chicago. The idea of sitting in a packed theatre might not be to everyone’s tastes just yet, but I feel pleased to have bitten the bullet and settle in, taking in the pre-show buzz and reminding myself how much I enjoy the atmosphere, and how much I have missed it over the last 20 months.
This isn’t my first time watching Chicago – in fact I think it might be the fourth – but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for another viewing. First shown on Broadway in 1975, Chicago the musical is based on a 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, focusing on the idea of the “celebrity criminal” and the US criminal justice system – specifically the role of women incarcerated for murder. A slightly off the wall idea for a musical, perhaps, but one that was given the infamous Bob Fosse treatment and has since become one of the most successful musicals of all time.
For those that are unfamiliar with the plot line, the story follows a group of imprisoned women in Cook County Jail in the 1920s, led by inmates Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Both women employ the services of slick lawyer Billy Flynn to get them out of jail – and turn them into celebrities along the way. What ensues is, of course, a battle of wits, greed and feminine wiles.
Proceedings kick off on a high-octane note with a faultless performance of my favourite song from the show, ‘All That Jazz’. The Razzle Dazzle is in full force as the cast, led by Velma Kelly, take to the stage for a powerful and toe-tapping intro. The vocals are spot on, as is the dancing – as intertwined bodies sweep effortlessly across the stage in seductive and flamboyant style.
Djalenga Scott performs her heart out as Velma Kelly, providing incredible stage presence and vocals to die for. She shares the top billing with Faye Brookes, starring as Velma’s cellmate Roxie Hart. Perhaps best known for her role as Kate Connor in Coronation Street, I am very pleasantly surprised by Brookes’ abilities on the stage. She brings a great sense of humour to the character of Roxie, as well as portraying a more vulnerable side.
Taking to the stage in the role of lawyer Billy Flynn is the evergreen Darren Day. He is a safe pair of hands for the role and his experience shines through. However, I am a little disappointed at the casting of Sinitta Malone as Mama Morton, the matron of Cook County Jail. The singer, known for her hits including ‘So Macho’ in the 1980s, showcases impressive vocals, but I don’t feel she has the stage presence to really do the role justice. It lacks drama, in a role that should really pack a punch in the drama stakes.
Special mention must be given to Joel Montague in the role of Amos Hart – Roxie’s honest but easily-manipulated husband. His sensitive, funny and warmly vulnerable portrayal is a joy to behold, and peaks with his rendition of the hauntingly beautiful Mister Cellophane.
A particularly nice touch for this production is the unusual decision to seat the orchestra centre stage. They are there from start to finish, immersing the audience in their fantastic performance, not to mention a few surprise comedy moments too. Otherwise, the production keeps to a well-loved format. Simple yet effective staging and very few costume changes keep the focus on the cast and storyline.
However, I do feel that the show lacks a little pizzazz at times – the final iconic number, ‘Hot Honey Rag’, featuring Velma and Roxie, being somewhat lacklustre and a slightly disappointing end to an otherwise energetic and vibrant show.
But there’s no denying that Chicago is still a delight to watch. Stylish, sexy, funny and full of sass, it may have been my fourth time watching it, but it certainly won’t be my last. The old Razzle Dazzle will keep drawing me back for years to come.