Stage: Chicago – Teatro, Montecasino, Johannesburg
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
HAVING started a year-long international tour in New Zealand and China last year, the latest all-South African production of one of the world’s most loved and sizzlingly sexy musicals is now on home ground before touring to Germany and Austria.
Even better news is that this irresistible show is all one expects it to be – tight, titillating, sexy, scintillating, overflowing with all that jazz, ashimmer with razzle dazzle and, being choc-a-block with musical, vocal and dance talent, a must-see. I drove from Durban to see it and it was well worth the trip.
This Showtime Management production of Chicago, co-produced in association with Barry & Fran Weissler and David Ian, is every bit as world-class as the three previous South African productions of the musical about greed, exploitation, fame, treachery and corruption, set in the 1920s but styled for a modern audience.
The show was first presented locally in 2005 then 2008, and some current cast members have been associated with all three productions – notably the sparkling, spunky Samantha Peo, who played foxy killer Roxie Hart in the last two touring productions and now steps into the buckled shoes of Roxie’s foe, senior merry murderess Velma Kelly.
Showgirl Roxie, who ends up in jail after being unfaithful to her hen-pecked hubby, mechanic Amos (a well-cast Grant Towers), is now played, with youthful vigour and sass, by bubbly blonde Carmen Pretorius. She is always a delight and a recent Fleur du Cap Award winner for her Maria in the international production of The Sound of Music.
She and Peo work well together, the latter hiding her cascading locks for the role to wear a short, dark, bobbed wig in the style of that sported by Catherine Zeta Jones, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Velma in Rob Marshall’s film version of Chicago.
The show, in case you have been living on another planet, revolves around the rivalry between these two murderesses awaiting trial in the Cook County Jail. There each is taken under the wing of “mother hen” prison warden Mamma Morton, superbly played by Ilse Klink, who has filled this role in all previous local productions.
‘Mama’ introduces the equally selfish and competitive Roxie and Velma to suave and conniving lawyer Billy Flynn, who offers not only legal representation but also a promise of media publicity and fame, which impresses the murderesses more. Special mention here of K J Haupt, who plays sugar-sweet news reporter Mary Sunshine, a role he has filled before.
A dapper and smooth Craig Urbani, who played devious Billy Flynn in the 2008 production and took over the role from Jonathan Roxmouth for the South African leg of the current world tour, fully embodies this slick character and is in fine voice.
First staged in 1975 by Cabaret creators Fred Kander and John Ebb, with choreography and direction by the legendary Bob Fosse, Chicago was revived in 1996 in New York, when it was radically revamped into the minimalistic and marvellous version the world is seeing now.
The musical is of most note, for me, for its toe-tapping score, which bristles with brassy exuberance and wit, and its superb, definitive choreography by Fosse muse Ann Reinking, created in the style of the legendary Fosse.
To this end, the attractive cast in this production fully deliver, while the on-stage band – dominantly displayed in what resembles an exaggerated jury box in a stage framed in gold – is a cracker under the guidance of seasoned musical director and conductor Bryan Schimmel.
A rich, muscular, handsome and slick production that offers Vaudevillian-inspired vignettes to tell its tale, the show is a triumph and, this being a franchise production, it is identical in every way to what you would see anywhere in the world.
The cast and crew can be proud of the strong reviews the show has been receiving throughout its tour.
Chicago, which is in Johannesburg after a season in Cape Town and is not visiting Durban, should not be missed. Performances at the Teatro theatre are until May 26 and booking is at Computicket.
PS: South African Amra Faye Wright, who starred as a va-va-voom Velma Kelly in the first two South African productions of Chicago, has gone on to fill this role in the London, New York and even a Japanese version of the hit musical.