Phoenix Theatre, Lon­don Un­til Oct 6, 2hrs 20mins


Chicago is back. But then it feels like it hardly ever went away. This re­vival closed in 2012 af­ter a marathon 15-year run. Peo­ple, it seems, can’t get enough of this story, set in Twen­ties Chicago – a happy tale of (as the pro­logue puts it) ‘mur­der, greed, cor­rup­tion, vi­o­lence, ex­ploita­tion, adul­tery and treach­ery’.

That list of sins has al­ways been the key to the suc­cess of the piece. The brazen cyn­i­cism, its jus­ti­fied as­ser­tion that the Amer­i­can le­gal sys­tem is a branch of show­biz, its abun­dant cleav­age and semi-nude male cho­rus… they all give Kan­der and Ebb’s 1975 show its naughty, adult al­lure.

The story con­cerns Roxie and Velma, two small-time show­girls who have both bumped off their men. What they need

now is get­ting off, plus a ca­reer boost. En­ter the in­ef­fa­bly charm­ing Cuba Good­ing Jr – slightly hoarse on open­ing night – as shys­ter lawyer Billy Flynn. For his ser­vices he boasts that things might have gone dif­fer­ently for Jesus Christ. Good­ing oozes all-pur­pose ge­nial­ity but there’s noth­ing ter­ri­bly oily about him.

Jose­fina Gabrielle makes for a vamp­ish Velma, though frankly once you’ve seen the sul­try, leggy Ute Lem­per in the part, no one else will do. Sarah Soetaert, a feisty lit­tle Bel­gian, plays Roxie in a vast, permed haystack of a wig – a cross be­tween Ginger Rogers and Lu­cille Ball. She’s un­der the thumb of the prison mama-boss (Ruthie Hen­shall in fine voice, an­other vet­eran of the show). Paul Rider’s Amos – Roxie’s hap­less hubby – has his great mo­ment of comic pathos in the num­ber Mr Cel­lo­phane. In Cell Block Tango the com­pany gives it ‘the old raz­zle-daz­zle’ and the dozen­strong band, dom­i­nat­ing the en­tire stage, re­mains cen­tral to the show’s free­wheel­ing, stand-up-trom­bone, vaude­ville-style.

But for a mu­si­cal that makes a virtue out of cyn­i­cism, one’s own isn’t al­layed. Cash ma­chine it may con­tinue to be, but this Wal­ter Bob­bie pro­duc­tion of­fers noth­ing to al­ter my view that this on­ce­great pro­duc­tion should be kissed good­bye rather than wel­comed back.

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