THE MAGIC of theatre is that, because it’s live – you can expect the unexpected.
This was certainly true at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton last night, where Chicago understudy Billie Hardy got to stand in for an indisposed Faye Brookes, to play the lead role of Roxie Hart.
Big boots – or rather high heels – to fill as Brookes has picked up rave reviews on earlier legs of this sell out tour. Looking at her programme biography, it seems about time Hardy got a break, having been an understudy in a few big musicals and suffering a tour cancellation due to Covid.
Well, Hardy started out confidently and ended triumphantly. I am sure the company went out of their way to support her and none more so than co-lead Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly. Their closing duet of ‘Nowadays’ and ‘Hot Honey Rag’ finished with a very ‘special eyes and teeth’ moment between them.
As to the show itself – this revival of the original 1996 Broadway multi-Tony winner from the legendary trio of Ebb, Kander and Fosse is packed full of raunchy dancing, cool jazz, glitz, glamour and a liberal sprinkling of raw emotion.
It’s set in the days of 1920s, when Prohibition brought huge profits for Chicago gangsters and the word ‘speakeasy’ was added to the dictionary.
There were hundreds of speakeasies (aka illegal drinking clubs) in Chicago and Roxy Hart was a dancer at one of them.
She murders her lover when he decides to leave her then hires top defence lawyer Billy Flynn to save her from the gallows.
Flynn is played by Darren Day who brings just the right amount of flamboyance and arrogance to the role, with Flynn’s courtroom antics being much more about show biz than justice.
Day’s ‘All I Care About’ when Flynn sings surrounded by feather floating girls in iconic Busby Berkley formation is spot on.
The set is cleverly centred around the fabulous ten-piece band, who are sited within a gold framed, steeply raked podium. Andrew Hilton ably conducts and MC’s the proceedings with character introductions, a bit of storytelling and the occasional quip.
Joel Montague gives an almost show stealing performance as Roxy’s cuckolded husband Amos. His rendition of the self-deprecating ‘Mister Cellophane’ brought a lump to the throat.
The sexiest number in the show has to be the classic ‘Cell Block Tango’ where the death row girls dressed in black lingerie and sitting aside bentwood chairs, sing how their male victims ‘Had it Coming.’ I guarantee you’d find it difficult to find a male audience member who wouldn’t let them off with a caution.
Sinitta Malone plays the prison boss lady ‘Mama Morton’ with a smile and an entrepreneurial swagger as she acts as part-mother hen and part-manager to the girls.
All the classic songs are here, All that Jazz, Razzle Dazzle, When You’re Good to Mama, the choreography is slick, the band is hot and everything flows.
A great show and finishing where I started, hats off to Billie Hardy – you done well, girl – and all that jazz!
Chicago runs until October 30 at the Grand. Click here for tickets, times and more information.