By Carly Fisher
Chicago returned to the Capitol Theatre this week and truly did bring the Razzle Dazzle that we expect from this show in what, hands down, would be the strongest production coming out of the Gordon Frost Organization rehearsal room in some time due to a combination of a refined, slick performance with impeccably strong dancers and a lead cast comprised of the best casting decisions in recent Australian commercial musical theatre. The show, yes, is dated and if you’re looking for a Broadway blockbuster full of set changes and elaborate costuming, no, this isn’t the show, however, there is something so sexy and scintillating about this musical that it is no wonder it remains the longest running show on Broadway and is currently in its third Australian tour. Chicago is one of the greats, made even greater by this fabulous production.
In a time when the idea of instant celebrities is more relevant than ever before, it is amazing how much Kander and Ebb’s words and music ring true to a 2019 audience. Even the basic structure – short segments highlighted by announced scene headings in a brightly lit spotlight – has such a familiarity to it that they may as well be reading captions from a social media post. The show may have been created (or premiered) in 1975 about the 1920s but modern audiences should find equal appeal in its form and content. After all, what isn’t exciting about celebrity murderers, and female ones at that.
In fact, the double header of female leads in itself is so very modern – women who won’t stand for the crap that their men put them through and so they take matters into their own hands…by whatever means necessary. I’m surprised to say this but it was a perfect time for a Chicago revival and, although I didn’t love it last time I saw it on Broadway, I really did enjoy every minute of Tuesday night’s opening performance.
This is in large part due to the perfect casting because, on a set so simple as the Chicago set (which is actually quite grand in its own way with the whole orchestra and conductor featured on stage) with not an ounce of colour on stage (bar the short appearance of some pink feathers to fan lawyer Billy Flynn with), you need a strong cast to really dazzle the audience with. No doubt, when the cast was initially announced the dependency on celebrity casting could not be overlooked, however, what a great choice each cast member proved to be in this show.
Casey Donovan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton brought all the power and grunt we expect both from the character and from Donovan, whilst Tom Burlinson delivered the slimy charisma and charm in bucket loads required from Billy Flynn. As a real show stealer, Rodney Dobson as Amos Hart was just perfect – desperate, naïve and totally aware of his own invisibility but less aware about how to change it, Dobson stole the audience’s heart.
Each member of the ensemble was sharp, sexy and delivered so much to their respective characters that they would hands down make up one of the strongest Ensembles I have seen in a while – perfect both when their time to shine arose but also as backup to the leads throughout.
However, at the end of the day, Chicago is all about two women each willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant in the ever changing world of the press, and the vaudeville circuit, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. Natalie Bassingthwaighte (Roxie) and Alinta Chidzey (Velma) are the two leading murderesses and compliment each other flawlessly whilst also making each of their characters a respective star. As Rosie, Bassingthwaighte plays dumb, helpless and exceptionally needy at first but it takes little time to work out just how clever and calculated she truly is, determined to be famous and to stay famous at all costs. From the opening number All That Jazz, Velma is immediately in control, prepared and smart, until her plans are somewhat unraveled by a certain other broad stealing her lawyer, her moves and even her shoes. Both Bassingthwaighte and Chidzey shine throughout the production.
Just before the show ends, the company surprises me with one of the nicest things I’ve seen on a Sydney stage in some time – a curtain call that includes naming each of the Ensemble dancers as they take their bow. A very classy touch that I am so glad made its way into this Australian production.
Congratulations to all involved in this production. It’s a good one!
Image Credit: Jeff Busby
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.