Review: Chicago, Edinburgh Playhouse

Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart

Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart

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Theatre audiences are going to adore Chicago.

The production absolutely captures the love affair that the story’s villainous anti-heroes have with themselves. With a hard edge and a brash, breezy handling of the script that focuses on the comic, the production sprints neatly through all the usual set pieces like a young Usain Bolt being called in for his tea by his mum.

Unlike Usain, however, there is a distinctly inelegant gait to the show. The opening number, All That Jazz, looking rather more like an unenthusiastic warm-up for an aerobics class than a co-ordinated, well rehearsed chorus going all out to wow the punters.

Mercifully the leads, including Strictly Come Dancing favourite Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart, seem to have benefited from rather more choreographic attention than the backing dancers. Co-star Tupele Dorgu’s physical performance as Velma Kelly was athletic, enthusiastic and, at times, daring.

Bernie Nolan’s turn as “Mama” Morton was somewhat muted in contrast, Nolan’s vocals outstanding as ever but her physical presentation lacking in direction.

Stefan Booth’s Billy Flynn was a revelation, Booth’s portrayal reminiscent of a smooth, 30s Radio City presenter with a killer voice to match.

An interesting side effect of the show’s decision to focus on the narcissistic, manipulative elements of the ensemble’s characters is that there is a distinct lack of interplay between the performers. The cast are so occupied by drawing out the ego in each scene that their exchanges lack warmth and vulnerability. The only scene that really benefits from the brisk handling of the narrative is “The Hugarian Rope Trick” that comes upon the audience so quickly that it’s a shocking contrast to the cynical tone of the show. Even then, it’s swept away in favour of the bawdy and the brash in moments, much like any genuine feeling that Ms Hart and Ms Kelly might care to display themselves.

Rating: ***