Chicago not a colourful experience

Theatre review by Hannah Richardson
Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly in ChicagoSophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly in Chicago
Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly in Chicago

First of all, I have to say that Monday night’s audience obviously really enjoyed the touring production of Chicago which is on stage at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.

Secondly, I have to say that I really didn’t. But I was clearly in a minority.

If you go expecting glamour, costume changes, spectacular dance routines “and all that jazz”, you may be disappointed.

Despite some well-known-name performers – John Partridge (Eastenders) as Billy Flynn, Hayley Tamaddon (Coronation Street, Emmerdale) as Roxie Hart, Sophie Carmen-Jones (Wicked) as Velma Kelly and X Factor winner Sam Bailey as Mama Morton – the whole show was disappointingly low key for me.

The staging putd the orchestra centre stage, in the style of a nightclub band, rather than in the orchestra pit.

This may allow for more bums on seats by freeing up the first few rows of the auditorium, but the band actually took up about two thirds of the stage area, leaving just a tiny patch at the front for the actual show to take place.

The talented but tiny ensemble did their best in such a confined space, but it didn’t make for grand, showstopping chorus-line numbers and, with the same black costumes serving them throughout the show, it was largely a show without colour.

That said, it was the ensemble who gave probably the most enjoyable performances of the show. Although their style was athletic rather than seductive, their singing and dancing was consistently superb.

Which is more than I can say for some of the stars.

And sadly, during the first half of the show, the amplification was so poor that we struggled to hear Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.

Velma’s big number, All That Jazz, was completely swallowed up in the sound of the orchestra.

And to my surprise, even Sam Bailey, as Mama Morton, stuggled to make her big voice heard.

For me, the stand-out musical moment of the night was the duet, Class, between Mama Morton and Velma, which was simply a treat for the ear, with gorgeous harmonies, proving that both of them really can sing.

Sadly, there were few such moments for me in this show, and elsewhere there were some painfully dodgy notes on offer.

This show definitely didn’t have me tapping my toes or singing all the way home.

But then again, I may have been in a minority. The cast were certainly treated to rapturous applause from the first night audience at curtain call.

Perhaps part of my bad mood was due to the theatre’s decision to allow audience members into the auditorium after the show has started.

I lost a good few minutes of the first act to blackout, when a large line of ladies shuffled slowly past in front of us to reach their seats in the middle of our row.

I know lateness is sometimes unavoidable, but I do think this is poor theatre policy. It definitely looked as if there were empty boxes they could have been seated in for the first half, without ruining the experience for others.

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