London’s Cambridge Theatre this year plays host to the longest-running, most-revived Broadway musical in the West End – Chicago. This current run of Kander and Ebb’s masterpiece sees Sarah Soetaert and Vivian Carter play the murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly awaiting trial for cold-blooded, first degree murder.
The set is as glamorous as ever, the stage adorned with glaring, garish neon lighting in the fitting style of nineteen-twenties Chicago burlesque. The band play on a raised plateau, pushing the action on-stage forward, and the reduced space makes the acrobatic performances all the more impressive. Inventive use is made of the ladders adjoining the wings, in particular where one of the inmates is hanged, giving Roxie a flavour of her own mortality.
The glitz and glamour of the murders is as poignant and relevant as it was when the musical saw its first run in 1975. The ‘Booming Twenties’ were completely antithetical to the starved, thrifty thirties. Entertainment recognised no legal limitation, and murders, particularly by women, were sensationalised by the press. On killing Fred Casely, Roxie Hart’s life is lit up in the glimmer of flashbulbs, her name inked into every headline in Chicago and her humdrum life as ‘some dumb mechanic’s wife’ expands immeasurably. Terence Maynard plays Billy Flynn, out for ‘love’, in addition to his five-thousand dollar fee. Casting a black actor as the lawyer in a nineteen-twenties courtroom, a new departure for the show, highlights even more the farce of the courtroom Kander and Ebb were trying to portray. During the decade, which saw the increasing popularity of the Ku Klux Klan, black men really only ever rose from their position as second-class citizens through show business. This latest departure for the musical simply adds to the likeness of the courtroom to a stage.
9 – Perfection is certainly an unattainable ideal, but suffice it to say that vocals on every number are airtight. Jasna Ivir is particularly impressive as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, whose ‘system called reciprocity’ ensures the survival of the wealthier inmates. Every member of the cast fulfils the risqué role expected, but as in other long-running musicals, it isn’t easy to bring something new to an almost-perfect formula.
Chicago is running in London’s Cambridge Theatre until April 30th.