Donovan… Chidzey… Dobson... Donovan... Bassingthwaighte... Furtado.
That didn’t quite flow like ‘Cell Block Tango’, but in a production promoting its stars, I felt it was a fitting opener to this review.
Chicago tells the story of two merry murderesses, who find themselves in the Cook County Jail. Roxie Hart (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) and Velma Kelly (Alinta Chidzey) know that the only way out is to manipulate the press to elicit sympathy from the public eye, both enlisting slimy lawyer Billy Flynn (Jason Donovan) to lead their campaigns.
Melbourne has seen this production of Chicago twice before, and we know it’s a remarkable adaptation of the 1975 Kander and Ebb musical. Thanks to slick direction (Walter Bobbie), stunning design (John Lee Beatty, Ken Billington and William Ivey Long) and aspects of Bob Fosse’s choreography (Ann Reinking), Chicago’s revival has long surpassed its original run on Broadway. This reignited interest continued with the 2002 film, one of the great movie musicals. Internationally, the show is known for its bevy of celebrity stars, and it is something this local season is no doubt trying to recreate, curiously giving TV star and now UK-based talent, Jason Donovan, top billing.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte steals the show with her take on Roxie Hart. Bassingthwaighte manages uniqueness in a much-loved role, beautifully crafting Roxie’s story from cold murderess to loveable victim. Although a touch lengthy, her monologue ‘Roxie’ did milk every moment for what it was worth to get the audience on side.
Alinta Chidzey as Velma Kelly has big shoes to fill, stepping into the role Caroline O’Connor so perfectly inhabited on Chicago’s last two Melbourne outings. While Chidzey clearly has the talent – particularly in ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’, a cardio and flexibility masterclass – her Velma was lacking a bit of the tough edge required to really sell her turbulent relationship with Roxie. Her dancing is nothing short of spectacular, and in the big State Theatre, she sells it right to the back.
Casey Donovan delivered powerhouse vocals as Matron “Mama” Morton but pushed the caricature beyond the rest of the lead cast. The few sincere moments with Hunyak (Jessica Vellucci) showed Donovan at her best and I hope she brings this out more in future. Jason Donovan captured Billy Flynn’s greasy opportunism, however, struggled vocally, outshone by the incredible ensemble in all his big numbers.
Rodney Dobson, as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos, was endearing with just the right amount of comedy, and J. Furtado combined vocal chops and charm to create sympathetic journalist Mary Sunshine. Andrew Cook (Fred Casely) and Travis Khan (The Jury) both make great impact in minor roles.
The real stars of this production are the ensemble, who make the difficult choreography look like a beginner Zumba class. Their skilful execution of choreography is complemented with well-crafted individual characters that seamlessly transition into a variety of minor roles.
This isn’t a perfect production, but it is a perfect musical. Chicago is showing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until February 23.
Photos: Jeff Busby
19 December - 23 February
State Theatre, Arts Centre - Melbourne