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Review: Chicago at Newcastle Theatre Royal

The Musical That’s Sassy, Sultry & Dangerous To Know
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 13th August 2016 

Chicago is the musical that likes to flaunt it. Beautiful people with great voices and fantastic dancing ability entertain in the satire about corruption. No wonder the show has become the longest running American musical in London’s West End.

John Partridge as 'Billy Flynn' and
Hayley Tamaddon as 'Roxie Hart'.
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Set in prohibition-era America, the story is based upon a 1926 play, that was written by newspaper reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, which looked at the actual crimes and criminals that they reported on. It shows that the concept of fleeting celebratory status is both fickle and not a new concept. The play is intended to be a satire of the system and how those with money can beat it. The action comes in announced sketches – just like the vaudeville theatre that was popular at the time.

Sophie Carmen-Jones as 'Velma Kelly'.
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Opening with the classic All That Jazz, the story follows 2 ladies that have murdered the men in their lives. Velma Kelly (Sophie Carmen-Jones) is a star of the stage who killed her husband and her sister when he found them in bed together. She is joined in prison by chorus girl Roxie Hart (Hayey Tamaddon) who assassinated her lover Fred Casely (Francis Foreman) after he declared he was going to leave her. 

Hayley Tamaddon as 'Roxie Hart'
John Partridge as 'Billy Flynn' and
Jessie Wallace 'Mama Morton'
Photo: Dewynters
Vema and Roxy find themselves in the same block in Cook County Jail being looked after by Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Jessie Wallace) who arranges, at a cost, legal representation by Billy Flynn (John Partridge). He has the reputation to get girls off the hook, after all, the county isn’t in the habit of hanging women. He doesn’t come cheap and his methods are somewhat suspect. Roxie’s husband Amos (Neil Ditt) seems to be a pawn rather than a player in the lawyer’s plans. Chicago follows the cases and desire, of the characters, to maintain their fame.

John Partridge as 'Billy Flynn' 
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
The staging of Chicago looks simple but is highly effective. The back of the set has the band on a riser which goes up to the top of the stage and features the 11 members of the orchestra. Under musical director Ben Atkinson the musicians are a significant feature of the show and get a couple of fabulous spotlights at the start and end of the second act. Their tight delivery of the score is one of the highlights of the show. The lighting design too, by Ken Billington, is deceptively simple but effective – especially during numbers such as Cell Block Tango. The songs are all sung well and show off the talents of the great cast including the amazing single note held by John Partridge.  The audience are literally exposed to the Razzle Dazzle.

Hayley Tamaddon as 'Roxie Hart' and
John Partridge as 'Billy Flynn'.
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
From the opening scene, as Emily Warner introduces the show, the stunning outfits, designed by William Ivey Long, set the tone for the show.  Walter Bobbie has directed a fun show which is firmly tongue in cheek. Choreographer Ann Reinking has included some of the original routines by Bob Fosse however the overall effect feels like fresh peices. The tightness of the routines by the talented ensemble did not go unnoticed.

Jessie Wallace 'Mama Morton'
Photo: Dewynters
Wednesday’s show marks Jessie Wallace’s debut in Chicago and the Eastender’s star looked very comfortable as the prison leader Mama. Sophie Carmen Jones and Emmerdale’s Hayley Tamaddon captured the two murderers well and have many opportunities to show off their singing talents. Another former Eastenders regular John Partridge has star quality as he demands attention whenever he is on stage. Neil Ditt too manages a moment in the spotlight during Mister Cellophane as the routinely manipulated husband.

Great songs, great staging, plus a talented good looking cast and suitably tongue-in-cheek: Chicago is seductive.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for Carliol Photography ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Carliol Photography on Facebook

Chicagocomes to Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 1stSaturday 13th August 2016. Tickets are from £19.50 and can be purchased at from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).

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