(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 27 June)
The touring version of the Fred Abb-John Kander-Bob Fosse musical comes over as fresh now as when it was first produced. The formal setting – the ten-person band facing the audience from steeply raked seats literally framed in gold, costumes basically in variations of black and a clever use of lighting – distances the audience from the 1920s story of women who kill and then (mostly) wriggle away from the gallows while at the same time involving it in their histories.
In Southend the opening night of the run brought understudy Lindsey Tierney to the central role of Roxy. She has a strong voice and is a good actress as well as dancer; that also holds true for Sophie Carmen-Jones as her prison mirror-image Velma. Frances Dee also holds attention as the girl who fails to convince a jury, and duly pays the penalty. Payment of any kind (except in cash or favours) is not within the remit of Sam Bailey’s prison dominatrix Matron “Mama” Morton.
Among the male characters, Neil Ditt’s Amos, Roxy’s credulous and ultimately hard-done by husband, stands out as someone towards whom one cannot help but feel both sympathy and exasperation. The fast-thinking, smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (John Patridge) grabs his moments, notably in “All I care about” and “Razzle dazzle”, though his histrionics have strong competition from musical director Ben Atkinson. AD Richardson has the creepily androgynous part of Mary Sunshine; an operatic training shines through “A little bit of good”.
Chicago runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 2 July with matinées on 29 June and 2 July. It can also be seen (with cast changes) at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 31 October and 5 November.