Phil Willmott

2018 Preview: CHICAGO returns to the West End in March

Chicago The Musical Hooray! From the end of March 2018 the West End is going to get a little sassier, more cynical and fierce with a revival of the celebrated 1996 Broadway production of CHICAGO by the song writing team behind CABARET, Kander and Ebb.

When it was first produced in 1975 it was only a modest success, the critics and public weren't entirely at ease with the way it lurched in and out of Vaudeville sequences and that it celebrated killers. However, when it was revived as a concert in 1996 the world had moved on, the news was dominated by the O. J Simpson trial and manipulation of celebrity and spin was firmly in the media spotlight, whilst audience tastes had broadened. The public was ready for a show that was as tough and sexy as the show business media circus it parodies.

It’s the story of how two women, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, arrested for murder in 1920s Chicago, compete for the public’s attention and post-release stardom in Vaudeville.

Vaudeville was an American theatre entertainment that was a little like a modern variety show but with the added titillation of crude humour and sexuality which appealed to the baser instincts of an unsophisticated working class audience in the first half of the last century. In its hay day it made big bucks and a major part of its appeal was the chance to see people from the news, including criminals, in the flesh.

The musical features a raft of characters in and around a women’s prison attempting to turn infamy into celebrity including Momma Morton, the savvy wardress of the gaol, Billy Flynn, an exploitative lawyer, a gossip columnist and many of the inmates.

The women are tough and sexy and the musical found a perfect expression of it all in the brassy, jazzy songs and the chirography of Bob Fosse. This utilised his trademark style of conveying a sophisticated sexuality through carefully controlled jerky movements, exploding into bump-and-grind style dance that emphasised the attractiveness of the toned and lithe dancers.

In the 96 productions both the band, which is centre stage, perform on a bare set which reflects the bleakness of the prison setting whilst allowing everything to be lit with harsh shafts of light illuminating the sexiness of the scantily clad male and female performers and the heightened theatricality of Vaudeville.

None of this would be worth a dime however if it weren't for wonderful songs like All that Jazz, Razzle Dazzle, Cell block Tango and If you’re good to Momma, that make lusting after sex and power seem classy.

Appropriately for the subject matter the success of the last long running West End production and the ongoing Broadway production relies on the appearance of guest celebrities some of whom seem entirely inappropriate, and unqualified to appear in a musical yet who keep the keep the show in the public eye and the box office busy.

Past “stars” of the show have included both genuine musical theatre royalty and inexperienced figures from soap, pop, talent show, reality TV and even sport. Fortunately somehow the clever team of in-house directors and choreographers always manage to make (almost) everyone who appears in Chicago look and sound great.

It could be argued that as the years pass the show’s celebrity casting has grown increasingly B list. But expect top notch performers to be announced for its much anticipated return to the West End.

Make CHICAGO, your glamorous, glitzy, guilty pleasure this spring!

Chicago tickets