Chicago stunning re-creation

CHICAGO opens with a red-coated master of ceremonies welcoming the audience to "a story about murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery - all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts".

But as the MC (Patrick Coull) has white and red clown make-up on his face it's clear that this musical is going to show those things in an entertaining, show business manner.

And with his appearance followed by the lively and colourful ensemble number All That Jazz, those watching are smiling and swinging shoulders in time to the beat.

The show's original director, Bob Fosse, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb used the song styles of 1920s vaudeville shows in adapting a play from that era, which was based on two women in Chicago who used the publicity and public sympathy fostered by their murder trials to boost their careers.

Here the fictional women, Velma Kelly (Louise Thornton) and Roxie Hart (Katie Wright), vie for the attention of the media, while the smooth lawyer, Billy Flynn (Nick Stabler), who represents both, likewise uses the pair to increase his profile and profitability.

In keeping with vaudeville practice, this production has the band on a riser on one side of the stage, with a raised platform at stage rear where some songs are delivered while dancers in feathery gowns and dinner suits perform lavish routines in the large space below.

These numbers are invariably followed by dialogue scenes in which the characters wear more sedate 1920s clothing. Megan Williams's always-on-the-take women's jail warden, Mama Morton, for example, is first seen in a glittering purple and silver floor-length gown singing in When You're Good to Mama about her management code, then reappears soon after in a grey uniform. And Stabler wears a suit decorated with bright lights in his introductory number, All I Care About, before changing to more lawyerly garb.

There's not a weak number in a score filled with songs drawing on Dixieland jazz, Tin Pan Alley pop, ragtime and patter routines. Stabler's delivery of Flynn's account of his court practices, Razzle Dazzle, lives up to its name in one of the big numbers, and Thornton and Wright, who have beautifully delivered reflective solos, get the chance to come together vividly in their bright duet, Honey Rag. Drew Holmes, as Roxie's much-manipulated husband, reflects movingly and amusingly about how people use and ignore him in the soft-shoe song Mr Cellophane.

Director Paul King, choreographers Silvia Martinez and Nicole Maslowski, musical director Kieran Norman and vocal director Michael Nolan head a large staging team who have recreated the world of vaudeville stunningly. The colours in the lighting of the musical numbers, for example, complement those of the costumes, something that was a feature of 1920s vaudeville venues.

But while the re-creation of that era is period-perfect, the audience leaves the theatre knowing that the characters and their behaviour have their counterparts all too often in today's world.

CHICAGO

Presented by: SNAP Productions

Venue: Hunter Theatre, Broadmeadow (49523355; hspa.nsw.edu.au)

Season: Ends Saturday

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