Instead of hiring a soap star, Oldham Coliseum took the bold step of recruiting an ensemble cast of unknowns for the first revival of Chicago in a decade – and the gamble paid off.
This intimate space reminds you that this is one of the great Broadway shows, and the cast works as a unit getting right to the heart of this blackest of musicals.
Chicago is a peculiar mix of old-school Vaudeville glitz and biting satire on the corrupt American justice system of 1920s Chicago. It’s based on true life events, so throw in Bob Fosse’s distinctive, but tough, dance routines and it’s a challenge for any cast.
Director Kevin Shaw also decided to add another curveball by adopting the current vogue for getting cast members to play instruments too. I usually find that cost-cutting convention tiresome but here it really adds to the piece.
All That Jazz is one of the all-time greatest opening numbers and the statuesque Marianne Benedict really grabs the role of amoral murderess Velma Kelly, belting out this classic scene-setting number as well as executing the complex steps.
Helen Power has more work to do with the repellent Roxie Hart (who is so difficult to warm to) but she tries gamely to get beneath the hard shell of this self-obsessed failed showgirl who is facing a murder rap.
In the film version Richard Gere was hopelessly miscast as dodgy attorney Billy Flynn, but not so here as Adam C Booth captures the smarmy charm of the handsome (yet ugly) courtroom showman. He absolutely nails the show-stopping Razzle Dazzle as the local justice system is eviscerated in song.
The mark of a great musical is whether it has at least one great song in each half. While Chicago slightly runs out of steam after the interval, it has top tunes to burn. Kantor, Ebb and Fosse were at the top of their game churning out world-weary anthems like Cell Block Tango, When You’re Good To Mama, My Own Best Friend and Mr Cellophane.
The dance routines are among the toughest around as Fosse throws down the artistic gauntlet to the hoofers, and the dancing throughout is of the highest order as every member of this talented cast hits their marks bringing the required precision to the steps.
Shaw has not overdone the parallels between the amorality of the Windy City and reality shows like The X-Factor, but as you watch soulless wannabes Velma and Roxie sell their souls for 15 minutes of fame you can’t help but think of long-forgotten reality show winners.
Oldham Coliseum has earned a reputation for nurturing new talent and it would have been easy to hire some soap opera reject. But why bother when you can get hungry talent as good as this who work so hard to breathe new life into a great musical that had become a laughing stock?
Review by Paul Clarke
Images: Andrew Billington
Where: Oldham Coliseum, Fairbottom Street, Oldham
When: until October 12, 2013.
More info: www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/chicago, 0161 624 2829