Without wanting to sound at all highbrow or show any level of over sophistication; I recently went to the theatre and I have decided to review it here on Ellie’s London. Anyone that has read my Summer Bucket List post will know how much I wanted to go to see Chicago on the West End stage over summer, but losing my job in May meant that I had to reassess my priorities, but alas, I finally got my paws on some tickets!
A musical set in the prohibition era Chicago, the musical opened on Broadway in 1975 and ran for a little over two years. A West End production opened at the Cambridge Theatre in April 1979 running for around 600 performances. 1996 saw the Broadway revival which went on to win 6 Tony Awards, a record for a revival which Chicago held until 2008. Over the years the Broadway show has starred Usher, Michelle Williams, Patrick Swayze, Alan Thicke, Taye Diggs and many more, until closing in November 2014, becoming the second longest running Broadway musical ever, surpassing Cats (another one of my favourites!)
Back over here in London, Chicago came back to the West End in 1997, running at the Adelphi Theatre for nine years, before moving back to the Cambridge Theatre in 2006. Not to be outdone by its American sister, the London show had its fair share of famous faces, including Brooke Shields, John Barrowman, David Hasselhoff, Christie Brinkley and America Ferrera to name but a few.
In keeping with the tradition of a star studded cast, the latest production of Chicago has seen a number of famous faces playing the key characters, including Cuba Gooding Jr and Duncan James as Billy Flynn and Ruthie Henshall and Mazz Murray as Mama Morton. Alexandra Burke also trod the boards as the infamous Roxie Hart in the later days of this most recent production.
I must point out that I saw a relatively poor production a couple of years ago on what must have been the last UK tour of Chicago, but having loved the movie, the music and the story so much, I wanted to give it another chance. Eagerly booking dress circle tickets the instant I could afford to, it was not difficult to convince my boyfriend to come to his first West End show. Eagerly anticipating how an X Factor winner would fare on the London stage (we all know she could sing, because of THAT Beyonce duet, but what about the ole… *razzle dazzle*…) Josefina Gabrille provided the Velma to Burke’s Roxie. With choreography styled on that of the show’s original director, the vaudeville air is prominent from the first 5,6,7,8.
Based on true events of early 1920’s Chicago, this production was one thousand times better, and all around more professional than the imbroglio I had previously witnessed. As much as I loved the blues music and jazzy, prohibition era prison girls dancing I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if there was an alternative take on the show. I know you should never mess with a classic, but trying to define sexiness with fishnet stockings and black satin (pictured above) felt like a pretty dated aesthetic – not in the 1920’s sense either, but more like this is how it was done in the late 90’s and we best not mess it up, sort of vibe. I know, if they had fiddled with it I might be sitting here asking WHY, but seeing as they didn’t I may as well ask WHY NOT?
It was a very ‘classic’ production of the show, to the point where it was borderline predictable, but the dark humor and vaudevillian whispers were more than enough to keep feet tapping and did not disappoint.
Chicago plays at the Phoenix Theatre in London until 5th January 2019, with Todrick Hall playing Billy Flynn.