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.