Reviewed by Jenny Bray
If you’re going to go and see this you need to have your Jazz hands ready… ‘Razzle dazzle ’em and they’ll beg you for more’ is the motto for the trial and is very fitting for the show.
Chicago is the 2nd longest running Broadway musical, having now run for 25 years and has been in the West End since 1997! It’s won several awards, including 6 Tony awards, 2 Olivier awards and a Grammy!
The show is set in Chicago (no surprises there!), in the 1920’s Jazz club scene during prohibition and mob rule. The part that I found fascinating is that it is based on real life events witnessed by Maurine Watkin, a journalist in the 1920s, who turned the detail in to a play later in the 1920s when she turned from journalism to playwriting and needed a story to base her play on. Kander and Ebb turned it in to this musical in 1975. Watkin’s aim had been to highlight how a pretty face could get away with murder in the 1920s due to the patriarchal society and all male juries rarely wanting to convict a pretty woman! The story is of a nightclub dancer, Roxie Hart (Faye Brooks), who shoots her lover when he threatens to walk out on her. Once in prison Matron “Mama” Morton (Sheila Ferguson) is responsible for looking after those on death row, which she does… at a price. Roxie convinces her husband Amos (Jamie Baughan) to hire hot shot lawyer of the time Billy Flynn (Russell Watson), to get her off death row to avoid being hung by duping the public and the media about her crime and creating a backstory so people felt sorry for her. Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) is her prison rival with the same lawyer, who ends up taking the backseat when Roxie is all over the press.
The majority of the show is set in prison and based around 6 women facing the death sentence, although you wouldn’t necessarily realise the setting due to the costumes and open set! The stage setting is minimal and mainly black, although the whole orchestra are set up in the background on the stage, which is unusual but it’s nice to see them as the music is so central to the show. They are also incorporated in to the storyline at times, which works really well.
The costumes are black and sexy, with provocative dancing to match. I’m not sure that’s what would have actually been worn in 1920s Chicago prisons once the women reached death row rather than when in the Jazz clubs, but we weren’t there for a full history lecture! The dance choreography fitted well with the 1920s, with flawless co-ordinated moves. It’s a show full of glitz and glamour so it would be easy to forget that the plot is actually quite dark and about adultery, murder, corruption and all the dark undertones that were present in 1920’s America!
The UK tour has different people playing the roles of Billy Flynn and Matron “Mama” Morton, so if you’re particularly interested in seeing a particular person in a role then you should check out their website for details; www.chicagothemusical.com/international-tour
Leeds Grand theatre is easy to find, with lots of parking choices nearby. We parked in the Edward Street car park, which is only £3 for the evening after 7pm and only about a 3 minute walk from the theatre. There are bars to order pre-show or interval drinks from. Masks are still to be worn and staff were friendly and all adhering to these rules.
I particularly enjoyed the parts where Billy Flynn and Roxie are telling her back story to the press but she is his puppet throughout and also ‘Cell Block Tango’ where 6 of the girls on death row share their embellished stories of why they are there; ‘Then he ran in to my knife, He ran in to my knife 10 times… They had it comin’!
Jamie Baughan, as Amos Hart, Roxie’s long suffering but doting husband, performed a great song about being invisible called ‘Mister Cellophane’, which was in stark contrast to the attention Billy Flynn gets everywhere he goes as he drums up media attention.
It was clear that some of the audience had seen the show several times before and were firm fans Although I enjoyed it, it felt like it was lacking something and was a bit too ‘jazz hands’ for me. The storyline flowed well and it was still a good night out therefore;
Rating: I rate it a 3.5/5
Tickets cost from £24 to £49
Chicago is on at the Leeds Grand Theatre between 10th and 14th May 2022.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.leedsheritagetheatres.com, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Box Office on 0113 243 0808
Leeds Heritage Theatres, 46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NZ