“You are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” This fitting opening line to hit musical ‘Chicago’, currently running at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, sets the scene perfectly for an evening of risqué fun and high octane jazz. Encore Performing Arts, directed by Adam Guest, rise to the considerable challenge of staging this dark and raunchy tale of women getting away with murder in a production bursting with sexiness and sass.
‘Chicago’ is packed with memorable musical numbers. A hugely talented on-stage orchestra, under the musical direction of Morris Fisher, dive into John Kander’s wonderful score with energy, skill and spirit from the opening note of ‘All That Jazz’ to the rousing full-company finale. They drive the show, ably supporting the cast and creating the sounds of the roaring ‘jazz hot’ 20s in style.
Lizzie Fenner and Shona Stewart deliver knockout performances, showcasing great voices, as the two rival vaudevillian murderesses at the centre of the story. Shona Stewart is a brassy, bold and buxom Velma Kelly, a nightclub star serving time for killing her husband and sister after finding the two in bed together. She delivers a strong, sexy, sassy performance full of attitude, nailing the hit number ‘All That Jazz’ in the show’s provocative opening.
Lizzie Fenner’s Roxie Hart, an ambitious chorus girl awaiting her murder trial for shooting the lover she’s been cheating on her husband with, is a perfectly cast contrast: petite but strong, quiet but fiery. She captures the heartless, cold, celebrity-obsessed Roxie in an impressive performance which sees her blossom from ‘green’ prison inmate into another version of the self-centred Velma. Her loose-limbed puppet with perfect vacant expression in ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ is an energetically performed comic highlight.
Dave Partridge is a razzling dazzling delight as oily, louche lawyer Billy Flynn. His smooth, effortless voice nicely matches the showmanship of this 1920s spin doctor in a performance full of smarmy charm: ‘All I Care About’ is gleefully tongue-in-cheek. James Dean cuts a sorrowful tank-topped and corduroyed figure (eliciting much sympathy from the audience) as Amos Hart, Roxie’s hapless but faithful and gullibly loving husband. His rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’ combines great comic timing with moments of pathos in a quietly poignant performance.
Laura Jones breathes duplicitous life into prison matron and matriarch ‘Mama’ Morton, delivering a strong vocal performance in ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ and nicely lamenting the decline of ‘Class’ in her duet with Velma. Performing in drag as sappy, soppy, sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine, Jorge Diniz is controlled and innocently poised: there’s a lovely moment of shy fluster when Billy Flynn goes in for a kiss.
Lucy Castle’s choreography is sexily slick across the whole production, from the merry murderesses in the ‘Cell Block Tango’ to the full set pieces. Refreshingly varied in body shape and size, the female ensemble own the stage, displaying a bold, brassy confidence.
A highly professional production of a Broadway classic in the heart of Nottingham and a criminally good night out.
‘Chicago’ is playing at Nottingham Lakeside Arts until Saturday 6th July 2019