Set amidst the prohibition years and the razzle-dazzle decadence of the 1920s, Chicago tells the true story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and night club chorus girl dancer who murders her lover, Fred Casely, after he tells her their affair is over.
Roxie is desperate to avoid conviction (as too were a number of other young women at that time, in very similar situations) and she manages to completely dupe the public, her husband Amos Hart – and her rival cell mate at Cook County jail, Velma Kelly.
She manages this by hiring Chicago’s slickest criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn, to transform her dreadful crime of passion into a barrage of sensational newspaper headlines that divert the public attention from the heinous crime she’s committed, to the feeling of complete sympathy as a young woman imprisoned, (supposedly) expecting a baby, and desperate to renew her marriage.
This wonderful show lit up the stage at Ipswich Regent Theatre – with a full eleven piece live band that were sublime in their musicality and attention to detail.
The gun shots used throughout were perfectly timed snaps of the snare drum, the brass section, piano and banjo played jazz befitting any smoky Chicago club of that era, and in full swing it was impossible not to clap along to the iconic tunes from this amazing show.
We opened with the classic ‘All That Jazz’ sung by Velma (Djalenga Scott, who has numerous theatre credits to her name – ‘Grease’, ‘Fame’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ to name a few) and she was accompanied by the full company of dancers who were both slick and foot perfect.
Roxie (Faye Brookes, best known for her role as Kate Connor in ITV’s Coronation Street) then took the stage to sing ‘Funny Honey’ and the scene shifted to Cook County jail for the ‘Cell Block Tango’, a very tongue in cheek song where all the ladies on ‘murderess row’, as it was known, give their versions of what happened to the men they killed.
We then meet Mama Morton, the corrupt matron of the jail, a part played perfectly by Sheila Ferguson who is best known as one of The Three Degrees, who were a huge female soul band back in the 1970’s. Her voice still hit all the high notes of ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ and saw Sheila receive a striking round of applause form the audience.
As if one iconic singing star wasn’t enough for the evening, when Billy Flynn (played by critically acclaimed classical singer Russell Watson) took to the stage, the audience were clearly in awe of his vocal range – ‘All I Care About is Love’ was sung brilliantly and the chorus girls danced along to make this an amazing feast for the eyes and soul.
Another big character in the play was Roxie’s long suffering husband, Amos, played by Jamie Baughan (an established star of both theatre and screen) who played his part with both modesty and conviction and certainly had the audience on his side, especially with his moving rendition of ‘Mister Cellophane’.
No show of this calibre is ever complete without the supporting cast, so I must also applaud the stellar crew of singers and dancers, plus sound and lighting technicians – all super talented in their own right and without whom, the show simple would not have had it’s ‘Razzle Dazzle’.
The whole evening took us through an immersive account of a true life story that happened during a time in the United States when life was full of corruption, gangsters, illegal alcohol and smoky, back street clubs hidden behind bland façades.
And women, quite literally, were able to get away with murder!