Chicago the Musical (touring) – theatre review

Rouge your knees and dig your seamed stockings out, Chicago is back in town for an Australian tour. This revival of the Broadway classic features iconic Fosse choreography, slick costumes and a pared-back set that gives equal stage-space to a live 15-piece jazz orchestra playing Kander & Ebb’s memorable songs.

Photos: Jeff Busby

To recap: In 1920s Chicago, murder is a form of entertainment, and the media can turn a criminal into a celebrity in a matter of minutes. The story centres around Roxie Hart (Lucy Maunder) who sensationally shoots her lover Fred Casey (Devon Braithwaite) and after failing to get her naïve but devoted husband Amos (Peter Rowsthorn) to take the fall for her, winds up in the county jail.
Quickly converting from contrition to capitalisation, in jail Roxie meets ‘Mama’ Morton (Asabi Goodman), the warden/matron who turns favours for $50, Queen Bee of the inmates Velma Kelly (Zoe Ventura) and a suite of other murderesses with a distinct lack of remorse. Roxie realises securing celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Anthony Warlow) is her ticket to freedom, and a deceptive defence is concocted.

This latest production is everything a musical fanatic could ask for, a razzle-dazzle show featuring some of Australia’s best loved and most talented performers. Fans of the iconic score will be delighted as the opening ‘wahs’ or rhythmic clicks herald classics like All that Jazz, Cell Block Tango, Mister Cellophane and Razzle Dazzle.

It’s a female-forward show, with the majority of the storyline propelled by the women; while the ‘boys’ do a sterling job in supporting and chorus roles. Performances are mesmerising, particularly the two female leads Maunder and Ventura, whose characterisations are both sassy and heartwarming, for two cold-blooded murderers. Special shoutout goes to Peter Rowsthorne, for an adorable portrayal of Roxie’s hen-pecked husband.

Chicago has distinctive choreography, faithfully portrayed here with sexy, muscular motion and sharp silhouettes. The entire cast is precision perfect in their movement, through a cascade of physically demanding dance sequences punctuated with regular songs – the performers must dance the equivalent of a marathon every night.

Having the band visible on stage throughout honours the jazz era in which the show is set, and it’s wonderful to see the musicians applauded for their work as much as the performers.

The slick look is completed by simple monochrome costuming and a concert-style set, where performers often stay on stage between scenes and manoeuvre a few chairs and some sparse props.
Chicago is just the right balance of style and sass – it’ll put a smile on your face and a snap in your fingers all night long.

Chicago the Musical is at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane until 4 February 2024, before opening in Melbourne on 23 March; followed by Sydney on 9 June and Adelaide on 4 August 2024.

Belinda Yench

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