“A nightclub singer, a double-murderess, a smooth-talking lawyer and a cell block of sin: it would be a crime to miss it.”
It’s been 15 years since Chicago opened in London’s West End and it’s still packing the audiences in. This latest tour is no different as the Palace Theatre Manchester witnessed on opening night, with an auditorium filled with people eager to see a bit of ‘Razzle Dazzle’.
Set in the roaring 1920s, Chicago follows the story of nightclub singer Roxie Hart who shoots her lover and along with Cell Block rival, double-murderess Velma Kelly, they fight to keep from death row with the help of smooth talking lawyer, Billy Flynn. The show features an array of amazing numbers including ‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘Mister Cellophane’ and ‘Class’, penned by the talented John Kander and Fred Ebb.
Former Coronation Street star Tupele Dorgu plays the role of Velma Kelly, opening the show sporting a fiery red hairdo with sexiness and sassiness in abundance! Her rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ proves to the audience early on that she has managed to shake off the ‘soap star’ shackles and become an accomplished showstopper!
Taking the lead of Roxie Hart is Ali Bastian – the Strictly Come Dancing finalist and former Hollyoaks actress doesn’t immediately shine and struggles to find her voice as the murderous temptress. By the time the show gets to ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ though Bastian has finally eased into the American accent and her pantomime poses seem well placed to develop a Roxie full of character and expression. It’s clear she is no match to Dorgu when it comes to vocals but she pulls off the dancing with ease, executing Fosse moves to perfection.
Stefan Booth as Billy Flynn is for want of a better word…ok. Yes, he is easy on the eye, delivers a good tune, and even has a decent balance of swarve and sophistication-however he doesn’t set any the stage a light or leave any hearts racing, which is a shame. Another weak link (and this is one I reluctantly want to admit) is Bernie Nolan. God bless her she may have a lovely voice but Mama Morton she ain’t-Nolan lacks the depth of Mama and it’s hard to be convinced she is the prison hard nut even sporting a butch hairstyle. I loved Bernie as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers and have cried many a tear to ‘Tell Me it’s not True’ but here I just didn’t feel like she connected with the part.
The Chicago ensemble provide a great element to the production with a crisp, slick and sizzling performance that helps turn up the heat. There’s also a brilliant opening to Act 2 from the permanently onstage band whose ‘Entr’acte ‘has the audience raring to go and whooping with delight at their cheeky interaction.
Full marks must go to Tupele though as she really steals the show, fizzing with energy and dominating every scene she is in-her ‘Velma Takes the Stand’ is just jawdropping, for her stamina and her never-ending legs! I doubt she’ll be going back to making knickers in Weatherfield any time soon.