I have to admit, when I first booked tickets to see Chicago at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, I was a little wary. I had seen a touring production at the same theatre a few years ago and I didn’t really rate it. The whole production came across as a little amateurish, which left me feeling a little disappointed.
There was some celebrity in the lead role (I don’t remember exactly who) and they just weren’t that good. It’s all too common nowadays for theatre productions to use a celebrity name to sell tickets but sadly they don’t always rise to the challenge. I’m often left wishing that they hadn’t sacrificed experience and training for headlines and star power. So when I saw the billing of Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Dancing on Ice) and Jessie Wallace (Eastenders), I was quietly sceptical.
Chicago was originally created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and the choreography legend that was Bob Fosse. It tells the story of a 1920’s nightclub singer, Roxie Hart, who is sent to jail for murdering her lover. While serving her sentence she meets Velma Kelly, a vaudeville performer and double murderess, Matron Morton, “the keeper of the keys” and Billy Flynn, the hot-shot lawyer who treats criminal trials as circus extravaganzas.
I should probably say now that I was VERY pleasantly surprised with the quality of this production. It was incredibly fast paced, with one musical number moving straight into the next, with no dull moments in sight. The whole cast, from principals to ensemble, performed with precision and energy.
The show opens in a Chicago nightclub with the opening number “All That Jazz” here performed by Sophie Carmen-Jones (Jersey Boys, Wicked) as Velma Kelly. Carmen-Jones is a consummate performer. Her Velma was haughty and tough-as-nails, while still displaying a vulnerability as her star begins to fade.
The role of Roxie Hart was played by Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Dancing on Ice). Tamaddon was the biggest surprise for me over the course of the evening. She was absolutely superb in the role which holds the entire show together. Her voice was beautiful, her dancing was fantastic and her characterisation of Roxie as a spoilt starlet who disregards everyone around her was incredibly realistic. I particularly loved her in the signature number “Roxie” where she lit up the stage.
John Partridge stole the show as Billy Flynn, a character it seems he was born to play. He dominated the stage with his smarmy charm and charisma. He had the most incredible voice, especially in THAT long note at the end of “All I Care About is Love” The “Razzle Dazzle” number, including Roxie’s trial, was by far my favourite section in the show. It was great to see him show off his dance moves as well as some serious acting skills.
Sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to see how Jessie Wallace fared in the role of “Mamma” Morton as she was replaced by her understudy, Ellie Marshall for this performance. I don’t feel like I missed out. Marshall was sublime and performed the role with effortless ease. During the number “When you’re good to Mama”, her movements were so controlled and subtle that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She also had a voice to rival many theatre greats, with her duet of “Class” with Carmen-Jones being one of my favourite in the whole show.
The role of Amos is a very quiet one. Neil Ditt (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole) handled it perfectly, with an unassuming charm while still managing to hit all the comedy beats. I genuinely felt so sorry for him in his final scene (no spoilers) and his song “Mr Cellophane” was flawless.
Having seen the show a couple of times, one of my highlights is definitely the band. The 10-piece orchestra are on stage throughout the performance. They play instruments (obviously!), they dance, they provide comedy relief. The conductor (sorry – couldn’t find the name online) in particular is fabulous and it must take a very special kind of musician to lead this show. Sedately tapping a baton will not suffice. He is a character in his own right and got one of the biggest cheers at the end of the performance.
The only real criticism I could find with the performance was that at times the sound levels seemed a bit unbalanced. Some dialogue and singing was occasionally drowned out by the band. Hopefully this was just due to it being a first night in a new theatre and the levels can be adjusted for the rest of the run.
After the show, Friends of the Royal Centre could go upstairs to the bar area where they were invited to meet the cast. I’ve seen these events before, but have never really felt the urge to attend before now. However, seeing as I’d enjoyed the show so much I thought it might be nice to go and pass on my congratulations. (As if my opinion would actually matter!)
When we got to the bar it was a little crowded and disorganised. Nobody even checked my membership card, so if you were bold you could easily have snuck in there. We’d been told we could have our programmes signed, except the theatre had only received 8 programmes before the show and so I couldn’t even buy one!
When the cast did arrive, it was without fanfare, as they just wandered through to the bar to get a drink. I overheard Hayley Tamaddon explain that she just wanted to have a quick drink before signing autographs and taking pictures, however she was ignored as more and more people approached her, poor lady!
To be honest, it all just felt incredibly awkward. These people were clearly exhausted after an evening of incredibly hard work. The last thing they needed was a group of strangers fawning over them. I imagine most of them just wanted to head home, get a shower and a cuppa and fall into bed. Maybe if it had been a formal meet and greet session, led by a theatre employee, I may have been comfortable saying hello and well done. Instead I just nicked off home, feeling like at least I’d saved them from one extra meaningless encounter.
I don’t think I’ll bother going to the Meet the Cast evenings again.
Overall, I had a fantastic evening and would highly recommend this show to theatre lovers old and new. It’s definitely not a family show as some of the material is not really suitable for young children. I’d probably classify it as 12A.
The production is showing in Nottingham until Saturday 20th August and will then continue its tour around the UK. You can book through the Royal Concert Hall website or check out the main Chicago tour website for further information.