Review: Chicago. Cabaret Theatre Company, Brewhouse, Burton on Trent


Ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, the good people of Burton on Trent were razzle-dazzled by a fascinating tale of murder, celebrity, and corruption.  The liquor flows in the Brewhouse, the 6 merry murderesses revel in their dreadful deeds and the stage is filled with jazz hands a plenty.  Chicago, the musical, is in town, and it’d be a crime to miss it.

Chicago cast

Chicago tells the tale of Roxie Hart, nightclub singer and Velma Kelly, a renowned vaudeville performer, both of whom wind up in the Cook County Jail for murder – despite being ‘not guilty’!  With a bit of quid-pro-quo and a lot of cash in pocket, the help of prison Matron Mama Morton and lawyer Billy Flynn, they fight for their freedom – and fame.

The Cabaret Theatre Company are one of the first to get their hands on the amateur rights to perform the show, and will be hard to beat in terms of the quality of the choreography and dancing.  Many of the cast are previous pupils and teachers at Cabaret Theatre School, so they have plenty of energy, skill and flexibility to offer.  But even so, the signature Fosse style of dance is complex and demanding, requiring control and attention to detail, with short, sharp moves and staccato beats.  The merry murderesses and the female ensemble are athletic, gymnastic at times, and with every twist of the hand, angle of the neck or grind of the hip, create a highly polished performance.

Chicago dancers

Equally challenged with complicated choreography are the leading ladies.  Roxie Hart is played by Sian Scattergood, who gives a very accomplished performance as the brittle, less than bright, felon.  In the eponymous song, ‘Roxie’, she addresses the audience directly, telling them about her dreams of fame.  Scattergood moves through a range of emotions, from self-pity to comedy to determination, whilst executing perfectly crisp and powerful vocals and stylised dance moves.  A class act.

Chicago - Velma & Roxie

Sara Evans-Bolger as her fellow prisoner, the bold Velma Kelly, has plenty of ‘look at me’ attitude, and powerful vocals which appear effortless.  She leads the ensemble with authority in the opening number, the infamous ‘All That Jazz’ and demonstrates her dancing finesse in all numbers. Particularly engaging is her comedic mickey-taking during Roxie’s ‘Me and My Baby’ song.

The leading man aiming to prove the innocence of his clients is the ‘silver tongued prince of the courtroom’ Billy Flynn.  Smoothly sauntering into this role is Duncan Leech, who captures the charm and charisma, but also the cynicism of the greedy lawyer.  Leech has great characterisation, subtlety of expression and phrasing, and draws us into the duplicitous world he creates through the media and the courtroom.  Billy is every girl’s dream – in the jail at least – and his song ‘All I Care About is Love’, an opportunity to add some Hollywood glamour with a Buzby Berkeley style feathered fan dance. Leech’s voice has a lovely warm tone, perfectly suited to this mellow song, but also demonstrates great control and power.

Chicago - Billy & Mama

Matron Mama Morton comes to life in the hands of Hilary Leam, who approaches it with exactly the right amount of ‘devil may care’ attitude.  Staring various audience members straight in the eye, she confidently delivers the conversational ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ with aplomb and a big vocal belt.

Dan Webber plays the melancholy, betrayed husband of Roxie, Amos Hart with charm, and has the audience ‘awwwing’ in sympathy with his touching and funny song ‘Mr Cellophane’.

The band, under the skilled Musical Direction of Charlotte Daniel, must be the busiest people in the building, as with very little lib to interrupt the music, they are continuously at work.  The 8 piece produces a well balanced sound, with brass and percussion in particular creating that sleazy, 1920s jazz sound.  They also accompany almost every beat of the action, even in the lib, almost like sound effects in silent movies.

The entire cast are costumed in a monochrome palette, and the production recreates the provocative, seductive style popularised in the 2002 film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellwegger and Richard Gere.  All the women are uber-glamorous, and Billy Flynn cuts a dash.  The male ensemble deserve just a little more attention to detail for their costume to keep them in period.  There is no set as such, and just a few props are utilised for different scenes.  This is occasionally confusing, with a lack of context, but once the characters are established, works fine.

Chicago - Velma, Billy & Roxie

Cabaret Theatre Company, with Sally Everson’s artistic vision and the pared back Direction of Chris Moss, have produced a confident production, with top-class choreography and dancing, superb vocals and bags of pizzazz.  As Billy would say ‘Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous, row after row will crow vociferous’.  We’re crowing with the best of ’em.


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