BWW Reviews: CHICAGO, Curve Theatre Leicester, December 4 2013
Last night marked five years to the day since Her Majesty The Queen opened the Curve Theatre in Leicester. To celebrate this, the wonderful team at the theatre put on a showbiz evening to remember.
On arrival, the press and VIPs were greeted by red carpet treatment; getting 'papped' on the way in. Inside was a hype of activity with a band playing well-known songs from the 1920s and 30s getting everyone in the mood for the evening ahead. There was certainly a lot of excitement surrounding the Curve's fifth Anniversary production of Chicago.
Chicago is a widely seen show and therefore the premise of a new production by the theatre's incredibly talented artistic director - Paul Kerryson - is a very intriguing prospect.
In the auditorium, the stalls are drawn into the setting by the use of low hanging lamps suspended over the first half a dozen rows or so - very much creating the jazz club feel. These were flown out with the iron at the top of the show but were reset during the interval and post-show; a nice touch I felt.
The seven-piece orchestra, led exceptionally by Ben Atkinson, were made an almost permanent focal point upstage centre which lent itself well to the vibe. Kander and Ebb's music is realised impeccably by the musicians and must be highly commended.
Al Parkinson's set design was relatively simple with flown prison bars, two set ones lining the wings and a set of treads either side of the stage which were extracted at specific points. Aside from the obligatory slash curtain and a rather striking newspaper cloth, there is little else. The show does not require much but with the coordination and artistic timing of the technical staff, they make the set seem so much more.
Philip Gladwell's lighting works well with the set and costumes. The use of isolation was ripe and this contributed to the atmosphere in a big way. Other associated elements of Chicago are the standard lightbulbs which add the razzmatazz required.
Takis is evidently a superb costume designer. He injected colour into a normally muted show. Particularly striking were the bloodstained leotards worn by the female prisoners - symbolism is a brilliantly powerful tool. Takis' work is very daring and although the vast majority paid off, I have a question about having the men in corsets in certain scenes. The men in Chicago are ultimately known for being very attractive, well built and masculine. However, I couldn't help but feel the men were being emasculated by this decision. This said, it is brilliant that boundaries are being pushed.
One of the key stars for me was Drew McOnie's choreography. Although the legendary Bob Fosse's influence is evident in places throughout, it is really original work. It would take a strong ensemble to pull off such complex dance routines and they do so to a ridiculously high standard.
Overall, Paul Kerryson's direction is first class. There are a few instances I didn't feel worked including the use of stage crew in nearly full stage light for simple set changes. However, this is a personal preference with my Stage Manager head on! The flaws were in Act Two in my opinion; although a great routine, 'Me and my Baby' need not have been so literal as it was bordering on cringeworthy. Also 'Razzle Dazzle' had an understandable circus concept but I don't feel it was fully achieved.
The cast should be applauded for the way the entire show is tackled. It will always be an ensemble piece and this is where the strengths lie.
Verity Rushworth as Velma Kelly is vocally very strong and she definitely grows into the role as the show progresses. She could have pushed the bolshiness a bit more and at times she seemed a little hesitant with the choreography - this came across as slightly awkward at times. Gemma Sutton makes a sassy Roxie Hart. She appears equally strong across the board. Sometimes she can be a little shrill but she demonstrated a very interesting characterisation.
Sandra Marvin's Mama Morton is inspired casting. The highlight of the show was the end of 'When You're Good To Mama', she brought the house down with her vocal prowess. It would have been a treat to see more of her but the quality was more than visible.
The supporting cast contribute masses to the production; notably Matthew Barrow as Amos Hart and Adam Bailey as the glorious Mary Sunshine. Underwhelming, unfortunately, was David Leonard as Billy Flynn. There wasn't a great deal of charm or conviction which is a shame as in other productions, he has been excellent.
To summarise, Chicago is a very ambitious new production which ticks most boxes. I would recommend to others in a heartbeat.
Chicago continues at the Leicester Curve until the 18th January 2014.