Book: Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Director & Choreographer: Matthew Chandler & Rachel Izen
Musical Director: Martin Wilcox
While Chicago is playing currently in London, it’s deep in the Southwest of the country, tucked in the rocky cliffs of Porthcurno where you will find a far more interesting interpretation of the classic musical.
It’s clear from the marketing of this production that this is Chicago but not as you know it. There’s no black background, black and white images and bold red lettering that staged productions typically use. Instead, a woman gleefully standing behind a circus billboard that doubles up as a mask. Above her, the tagline join our freakshow.
This poster sets the tone of the piece. At its core is the racy musical full of murder and sex but they are not themes that dominate it. Instead, it’s a production that focuses much more on Roxy’s push for fame through the press. In the era of Love Island and social influencers, it brings a whole new meaning to the musical and reinvents it into something more.
Directors Matthew Chandler and Adam Hague have done well to revitalise this production to be set in the circus. It’s not an overwhelming setting but what it does do is bring a bit of lightness and humour into what can a very dark musical.
Razzle Dazzle was one of the strongest moments in the show that really embodies this different twist. From tightrope walking to gymnastics, it homes in on the idea of a courtroom really being a three-ring circus. It was also very clever to frame Mama Morton as a ringleader and Amos as the sad clown being tossed aside so Roxy can be a star.
The nature of the historic Minack means that set was very restricted and so it’s down to costume designer Matty Chanzy to bring the circus to life which he does well. Most costumes were black and white striped leotards for the female ensemble and for the men a sleeveless police uniform. Mixing the Circus and the prison system is clever and shows how the press treats prison as a freak show in a very different way to what has been seen before.
Chicago is held in high esteem because of the unique and concise choreography Fosse used in the original musical. The cast is fantastic at executing the high tempo choreography by Chandler and Izen, particularly Rebecca Leaves who plays Roxie Hart and Charlotte Greenwood who plays Velma Kelly in their final number.
While the production overall could be a bit slicker, you can’t fault the production for its very talented cast who haven’t just put on another carbon copy production of this musical, but instead took a risk and done something different.
Musicals, particularly famous ones can be caught up too much in their own past and it was great to see this different and unique interpretation in what has to be one of the most beautiful and unique theatres in the world