Melbourne is a lucky town in the run up to the silly season and, like champagne frothing over the edge of a glass celebrating a court win through chicanery, the excitement flows all the way over into 2020. You need to grab yourself some of the bubbles at John Frost and Suzanne Jones’ Chicago, The Musical. Packed with headline cast, this version does not disappoint.
Created in 1975 on Broadway, this musical packs famous songs, dance routines, set, costume and loads of chutzpah, and has won 6 Tony awards, 2 Olivier A awards, and a Grammy. This production is top class, looking a million dollars, much like the best lawyer hired to represent Roxie Hart defending her shooting of an ex-lover.
The show, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Ebb and Bob Fosse, with original choreography and direction from the inimitable dance doyen, Fosse, is based on a 1926 play by reporter Murine Dallas Watkins, who tells the stories of real life criminals she reported on. Against a backdrop of revealing and revelling in the seedy backroom world of corruption, it satirises legal process and the cult of celebrity criminal.
Showing for years both in America and on the West End in London, it’s synonymous with Fosse’s unique refined dance style and William Long’s stark, linear black costuming on John Lee Beatty’s stark set design. As well as the larger than life, born to be stagebound, characters.
The 1920s press became fascinated by a series of homocides committed by women with some high profile cases of them killing their husbands or lovers, with one County granting a series of acquittals. The Chicago Tribune backed the prosecutors but the cult of the Sob Sisters gained traction, female reporters telling the back stories of the women to elicit sympathy.
Against a period of change in public perceptions of women’s roles, Chicago’s synopsis is of ne’er do well girl Roxie Hart who shoots her lover Fred Casely as he threatens to leave her, then tries to get off. Like the true 1924 story she is based on, her mechanic husband, as Amos Hart, bankrupts himself to defend her, only to see her dump him the day after her acquittal. The character of Velma Kelly is based on a cabaret singer and society divorcee, implicated in the 1924 automobile murder of her lover. Days apart, separate juries acquit both women. Two lawyers are composite inspiration for the slickster Billy Flynn who gets them off, played here by Jason Donovan.
A golden cast of topline performers grace this stage to bring this marvellous seedy jewel of a story to life backed by a live onstage band under Jesse Kissel. You will thrill to hear the classics All That Jazz, Funny Honey, Me And My Baby, Roxie, Razzle Dazzle, and When You’re Good To Mama. The live accompaniment really transports you to Chicago itself, as much a character as the corrupt cast that populate it on stage.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte is in top form, fit, toned and busting with charm and energy as the cutsy Roxie, and has excellent voice. Her dancing matches her singing strength and it’s clear she relishes the role and limelight. Alinta Chidzey is 100% Broadway and a triple threat- with superb dancing, vocals, and acting. She almost steals the show her standard is of such quality and her voice hits every note, taking her audience to highs not before known. With her stunning long legs in showgirl heels, she shimmies and kicks her way into the performance of your dreams and unmissable as this bad girl.
Casey Donovan is a jewel in the crown of this show playing back lane Matron Mama Morton. Her voice is a diamond that shines, rich and deep in colour and tone, and her presence on stage fleshes out her overpowering diva and underworld ‘Queen’ she is. She commands the stage as soon as she is on it and her duets with the other female cast are a standout.
The dancers are totally superb- thoroughly on beat and revelling in the famous Fosse signature moves, told in black tights, sequins, high heels, and ripped pants. They exude sexuality and pathos and each is a knockout performer.
A superb comic highlight comes from Rodney Dobson as rejected husband, Amos, in his Cellophane routine and reminiscent of Sad Dad jokes. J. Furtado’s stunning voice, as gossip hound Mary Sunshine, and funny reveal is memorable.
There are two shows per day, matinee/evening, in the last days of 2019(27- 29 December)- squeeze the show in as you farewell any misdemeanours as a good bon vivant while celebrating all that is Melbourne theatre and Australian performance excellence.
This is a show you must say you’ve seen once in a lifetime.
– Sarah Wallace
is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne. A performing arts and English literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Chicago: The Musical shows 14 December- 23 February, 7.30/8pm Wednesday – Saturday, 6pm Sunday, Matinees -Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday(2.5 hours incl. interval) at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne. Book tickets here.
Venues are accessible. Audio described and Auslan performances through February. Recommended for 13 years+
Images: Courtesy of Peter Brew Bevan and Jeff Busby.
Disclaimer: The Plus Ones were the guests of Lucky Star Media.