Chicago boasts a simple production that lets its musicians and performers shine through.
Last night, the Mayflower Theatre received Chicago, The Musical in a packed auditorium that experienced an entertaining and joyful show. As the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history, the show proved its success and kept audiences laughing and clapping until the very end.
The story follows Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two women convicted of murder at the Cook County jail in the 1920s. During this time, the city of Chicago was run by gangsters and infamous lawbreakers. And just like them, the characters from this story have virtually no moral compass. As Roxie and Velma fight for the attention of the newspapers, I found myself at the edge of my seat, completely invested in the media frenzy.
The musical begins with a sparkling overture before actress Djalenga Scott enters the stage for the all-time classic, ‘All That Jazz.’ Scott’s poised interpretation of Velma Kelly is beautiful, elegant, and her vocals erupt at just the right moments. Shortly after, we meet Faye Brookes as “naive” and provoking Roxie Hart. Brookes’s witty and charming sense of humour made for many amusing exchanges between her and Darren Day who played Billy Flynn, the “silver-tongued prince of the courtroom.” The physical comedy between Brookes and Day in ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ was superb and a definite highlight.
As we move from the iconic ‘Cell Block Tango’ to Mama Morton’s ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ performed smoothly by Sinitta Malone, to drag queen Divina De Campo’s high soprano and four-octave range giving life to journalist Mary Sunshine, there’s a sense that the musical will only get better. The artists are patient and use intonation punctually to build up emotion little by little. When we close the first act, Roxie announces that she’s pregnant, and audiences are left dancing in their seats.
After the interval, Velma Kelly announces, “Hello suckers. Welcome back,” which is the perfect introduction for the brilliantly chaotic Act II. In here, actor Joel Montague stole so many laughs from the audience with his rendition of ‘Mister Cellophane’ while still being endearing and a little sad; the perfect balance.
The set and costumes of the show were relatively straightforward. The reality is that Chicago is a practical production, relying almost exclusively on the talent. With the use of some prop chairs here and there, the dancers fill the space with the help of a magnificent orchestra directed by Andrew Hilton. Even though Velma and Roxie are the stars of the show, the decision to place the orchestra in the middle of the stage and the playful way in which the band interjected in the performances stole the spotlight several times. The drums, the tuba, the trumpet, and the trombone all had their time to shine, which made the transitions engaging and pulled the audience into the story itself. Furthermore, the strategic use of light enhanced the atmosphere to a sleek and gleaming stage.
When we finally reach the expected trial scene, the actors land every punchline with vaudeville levity and rhythm, and Mary Sunshine embodies the message that “not everything is what it seems,” giving Roxie her freedom. At the same time, Scott and Sinitta heartily sing the honest and still lyrically relevant ‘Class.’ The Finale culminates with a jazzy dance sequence and spectacle that closes the musical in high spirits. As simple as Chicago’s set is, the orchestra and performers triumphantly give a timeless quality to a “splendiferous” show.
Chicago is running from November 15 – November 20, 2021. You can book your tickets at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton here.