Five, six, seven, eight!…
Come on Sydney why don’t we paint the town, ’cause Chicago the Musical is here… and it’s a killer. After months of anticipation, Broadway’s most infamous production opened at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre last week, and the city’s been ‘hung up’ ever since. The atmosphere in the auditorium was buzzing on opening night and when the velvet curtain rose to reveal a full jazz bandstand centre stage, it was obvious the audience was about to witness not a puffed-up extravaganza, but something undeniably classic.
Winner of six Tony Awards®, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy®, Chicago is not your typical musical. Unlike modern productions, it doesn’t rely on big sets or elaborate costumes to make its point. Instead, it harnesses the art of minimalism, textures and dark colours to bring the grungy 1920s underworld to life. From the first piano keys of the opening number ‘All That Jazz’, the entire chorus of dancers were scantily dressed in a black array of underwear, skin-tight pants and fishnet stockings, setting the mood for this stripped-backed cabaret show.
By removing the fluff, Ann Reinking’s choreography, inspired by revolutionary director, Bob Fosse (Cabaret, Sweet Charity) is able to take centre stage, giving this sharp, slick and sexy ensemble of dancers the opportunity to showcase their skills. This lack of distraction also means the audience can fully immerse in John Kander’s iconic musical score and experience the rawness behind the jazzy tunes ‘Cell Block Tango’, ‘When You’re Good to Mama’, and ‘Razzle Dazzle’.
But how has a show that works on so little survived for so long? Believe it or not, the story about jazz slayer Roxie Hart and cell block rival, double murderess Velma Kelly, fighting to keep from death row with the help of smooth talking lawyer, Billy Flynn, is uniquely based on real life events. The original play was written by Chicago Tribune journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins in the 1920s. During her time covering the courthouse beat, she was shocked by the growing number of female murderesses and the modern media frenzy that surrounded them. Fast forward to today and the themes of lust, greed and ambition are still reflected in our social-media- and reality-TV-obsessed society.
“You’re a phony celebrity, kid. In a couple of weeks no one will know who you are” — Lawyer Billy Flynn
Helping bring these themes to life is a star-studded cast that includes Neighbours starlet Natalie Bassingthwaighte as the calculating Roxie Hart who transforms herself into a socialite sweetheart over night; Helpmann Award winner Alinta Chidzey (West Side Story, A Little Night Music) as vivacious alley cat Velma Kelly; Tom Burlinson as slick lawyer Billy Flynn, Casey Donovan as warm-hearted but edgy Matron “Mama” Morton and Rodney Dobson as Roxy’s patsy of a hubby Amos.
This classic piece of musical theatre is nothing like Sydney has ever experienced before. Chicago is a state of mind, reflecting a place and time oozing with confidence, sensuality, greed and razzle dazzle that really would be a crime to miss.