5th December 2013

Chicago – Curve, Leicester

Chicago (curve) 2013 Photo: Pamela Raith
Chicago (curve) 2013
Photo: Pamela Raith

Directed by Paul Kerryson
Choreographed by Drew McOnie
Reviewed by Karen McCandless
Rating: *****

Paul Kerryson has been making a name for himself for the high-quality musicals he has been directing since he became artistic director at Curve, Leicester.

From The King and I to 42nd Street to the world première of Finding Neverland, Kerryson produces shows that rival the West End in terms of quality while putting his own spin and mark on each performance.

The choice of Chicago to celebrate Curve’s 5th birthday was always likely to sell tickets, as the musical is hugely popular and very fun to watch. But it was also likely to be a challenge to make this version stand out from the very successful film, as well as the stage versions that run in the West End and Broadway.

What Kerryson produced was of West End standard but with some extra ‘razzle dazzle’. In the 1920s, murder is a form of entertainment in the city of Chicago (a quotation from Mama Morton). And this musical showcases is all about the (sometimes brutal) murders carried out by women, normally their husbands. It’s funny, sassy, slick and dark and features an extremely strong range of songs from All That Jazz to Razzle Dazzle to Cell Block Tango.

Chicago does an excellent job of incorporating these songs into the storyline so that they actually tell the story rather than being add ons that finish a scene. Often with musicals, a review starts off talking about the strength of the vocals. And in this production, all the cast had strong vocals with no notes out of place. The stand out performance vocally was from Sandra Marvin as Mama Morton. Quite how she managed to hold the note in her opening number so long is a mystery.

Adam Bailey as Mary Sunshine also put in a strong vocal performance. But, vocals aside, what set this show apart from the many other productions of Chicago there have been through the years is the choreography.

Drew McOnie  did an outstanding job and it is his work that made this a five-star production. Every scene was intricately choreographed and thought out. The particular stand outs scenes were the introduction of Billy Flynn (Leonard) with his harem of girls with feathers, the press conference scene with Flynn and his ‘puppet’ Roxie Hart and the court/circus scenes.

Both the choreography and the direction on the circus/court scenes were brilliant and the staging was excellent. The role of the male dancers was more prominent in this production, as they had a slightly more effeminate, sexy style while also being comedic. They often cross dressed in scenes but still retaining a certain masculine air. It was reminiscent of Matthew Bourne’s casting of men as the swans in Swan Lake.

The costume department made all the outfits sexy but fitting for each scene, whether it be a press conference or in court or the baby scene. Standout performance on stage came from Gemma Sutton who played a minxy Roxie Hart. She was less naïve and innocent than others have chosen to play Hart, deciding to take the character down the route of cold, calculating and manipulative from a much earlier stage instead.

Verity Rushworth as Velma Kelly had such an air of ‘has been’ with far less sex appeal than Roxie. The scene where she was trying to convince Hart to form a double act with her dancing in the show was very funny but had desperation written all over it. Rushworth played Kelly with a real air of faded glamour. David Leonard oozed sleaze and bravado as criminal lawyer Billy Flynn and Matthew Barrow was suitably pathetic as Roxie’s put-upon husband Amos.

Curve’s production of Chicago was a triumph and a stand out show, combining spectacular choreography, excellent staging, brilliant costumer design and strong vocal performances.

(This review was originally published on Arts in Leicester in December 2013.  It was re-published on 18th November 2014 as part of our archiving project.)

See also:

The Water Babies (Curve) re-published review.

Shakespeare for the Facebook generation. (Curve) re-published review of Romeo and Juliet.

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