Chicago the Musical Review – Royal & Derngate

A musical full of razzle dazzle has come to Northampton!

I can’t tell you how excited I was to see such a classic show live on stage! Chicago the Musical is every musical theatre performer/buffs bread and butter education in the industry. You have jazzy music numbers, dark topics, iconic choreography and I’m certain this show will wow the audience of Royal & Derngate. 

Those who aren’t familiar, Chicago is the 1975 American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. The show is set in Chicago during the jazz age and is based on the 1926 play of the same title by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins. 

The story recalls actual criminals and the crimes on which she reported and is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal”. If you love all things 1920’s, jazz and showbiz with a touch of darkness, this is something for you. 

We entered the theatre to see the view of the stage. The staging itself was very simplistic; a gold frame surrounding the stage, as if you’re about to step into a movie. Usually, I’d say it’s a bit too simple but less is definitely more on this occasion. 

It worked well especially that the band was placed within the set and played a big part in terms of reacting to the story, being the band during Velma’s opening number when she’s performing to the audience and even the conductor was getting involved with the action – I loved his overall stage presence and the band sounded incredible with every note played. 

I particularly liked the use of the ladders on both sides of the stage which were used effectively by both principal and ensemble cast – an odd choice, but incredibly clever.

The costume design was also quite simplistic, but again, it works incredibly well; black lycra, jazz costumes, dapper suits and flapper dresses – everything that I would expect Chicago to embrace and wear!

So far, first impressions are high! However, there were some issues in the first half with the balance of the band and the singing – considering we were in row G of the stalls, I even found it hard to hear what some of the cast were singing – I couldn’t imagine what those sat at the back were hearing – but by act 2, this improved massively. 

But do you wanna know who the stars of the show were for me? Hands down, the ensemble! They were probably the tightest, slickest and best ensemble I’ve seen in a show in a long time. The fact that they were pretty much on stage for the majority of the show, either performing or sitting down on the side of the stage insight and reacting to everything? I applaud them! 

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Fosse’s choreography come to life on stage – having actually performed the “All That Jazz” choreography myself, I was feeling all sorts of nostalgia watching it be performed by a professional touring company for the first time.

Not a single hand roll, finger or head turn was out of place – completely slick, all consistent and once again, credit to the incredible ensemble for being all in sync.

On this occasion, Djalenga Scott was not present to perform as Velma Kelly, a vaudevillian turned murderess, so I had the pleasure of watching Michelle Andrews in the role. 

My goodness – my breath was completely taken away by Andrews’ performance. If I hadn’t known at the beginning of the performance that she wasn’t the main Velma Kelly, I would have been shocked – she looked so comfortable in her portrayal and my eyes were forever glued to her (sometimes more than others on stage!) 

It was like watching a modern-day version of a young Liza Minnelli – on top of that, she was an incredible singer, actress and dancer – she was thoroughly entertaining and energetic! 

Roxie Hart was played by Faye Brookes (you may know her from Coronation Street) but on this occasion, she was portraying aspiring vaudevillian and murderess who’s on trial for the murder of ex-lover, Fred Casley. 

Brookes’ performance as Roxie was a surprising breath of fresh air compared to the image I’ve had in my head of previous Roxie Hart’s I’ve seen/heard. She manages to pull off a very innocent/childlike performance whilst still being seductive and naughty – almost like a rebellious school girl. 

I wasn’t sure at first, I’ll be honest – especially after her rendition of “Funny Honey” as her voice was quite soft compared to versions I’ve heard before, but Brooke managed to win me over with her incredible acting and both her and Andrews’ contrast each other really well! 

I really enjoyed their chemistry together and individually, she was fantastic!

Once again, I had the pleasure of watching Darren Day for the 3rd time at Royal & Derngate (previously Hook in Peter Pan and Beauregard in Mame) but this time, he portrayed swish and perfect lawyer, Billy Flynn. 

You can’t help but feel a bit swoony over Day – he was a great casting choice for this role. Whilst he doesn’t quite hit the big long notes in his songs (especially that big note at the end of “We Both Reached For The Gun” which he cut short) his version of Billy Flynn is one that is memorable and enjoyable. 

I was so excited to see Sinita, who played Mama Morton, live on stage… However, I wasn’t completely convinced by her portrayal of the character. I loved her singing voice (her songs are such hits that I love bopping to!) and I felt she brought an entirely different interpretation to the role of Mama Morton that some people may love or dislike… unfortunately for me, she wasn’t quite the Mama Morton I wanted. 

I was simply wanting more when it came to her big number “When You’re Good to Mama ” and didn’t feel she hit the mark. You need to have lungs of steel for that song, as I was craving a much louder and beltier performance. 

It’s a shame as I don’t want this to discredit her as a singer and actress, but I felt the performance was quite flat. But what I will mention is that she brought some sass and class to the role!

Divina De Campo… oh I screamed when I saw her come on stage! As a die hard RuPaul’s Drag Race UK fan, I was ecstatic to see De Campo (also known as Owen Farrow) in the pivotal role of Mary Sunshine that was PERFECT for her! 

She’s known for her soprano and 4 octave range and she certainly showed it off! As an actor, she was big, bold and eye-catching! 

My only wish was that I could have seen more of her! 

Big shout out to West End superstar and pro, Joel Montague who played loveless and hopeless Amos – standing out of the crowd in my eyes for his great performance both in comedy and making my heart break for him as he craves attention and love from his unfaithful wife, Roxie. Bravo, indeed! 

Overall, if you’ve been a fan of Chicago the Musical and it’s songs like me; you will be tap dancing away in the aisles over all the suave and toe-tapping hits like “All That Jazz”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Cell Block Tango” and many more. 

I found myself going “oh yes!” every time a new song came on – performed effortlessly by all the cast and ensemble both in singing and dancing – my highlight was definitely watching Cell Block Tango which was ICONIC! 

It was fantastic to see a full auditorium full of Chicago the Musical fans – the atmosphere was lively and everyone cheered at the end when the final bows came around. Speaking on behalf of (hopefully) everyone, it was a great night out that everyone craved with some star dazzling entertainment! 

Don’t just take it from me; go and see the show whilst it’s still on – you have until Saturday to catch them! 

★★★★

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