Review – Chicago

Apr 27 2012 | By More

* * * *

Tupele Dorgu, Stefan Booth, Ali Bastion and Bernie Nolan in Chicago

Tupele Dorgu, Stefan Booth, Ali Bastian and Bernie Nolan in Chicago

Edinburgh Playhouse

Review by Thom Dibdin

The cynical tale of murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery – “all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts” as Go-to-hell-Kitty so memorably foretells – struts back into town looking as good as it ever did.

All the familiar elements are there to portray the sleazy underworld of the roaring twenties in Chicago. The hot, skin-tight lingerie outfits, the even-hotter ensemble of singers and dancers to wear them, and a truly sizzling jazz-infused on-stage band are all present and absolutely correct.

Not to forget the required complement of small-screen celebrities to add a cynical note of postmodernism to a tale which makes much of the celebrity culture of the courthouse, where the more gruesome your murder – and the less likely your innocence – the more likely you are to get off.

In place are Ali Bastian strutting out Strictly style as murderess Roxie Hart; Tupele Dorgu of Corrie fame as her rival the double-murderess Velma Kelly; and Bastian’s fellow Hollyoaks star, Stefan Booth as sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn whose razzle dazzle can make them both courtroom stars.

Then there is Bernie Nolan getting down and bluesy as that queen of the cellblock: Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. “If you’re good Mama – Mama will be good to you!” – oh yes she will.

First of the star-bunch to rise to prominence out of the ensemble is Tupele Dorgu’s Velma Kelly. And if you didn’t know she had a history of involvement in small-screen televisual entertainment, there would be nothing to indicate that she was there on anything other than merit.

A clever, slick and utterly professional performance

Her Velma Kelly is a vicious, small-minded character, happy to step on those below her in the pecking order without a care for whether they might be useful for her in the future. Within the confines of the musical which doesn’t allow for a vast creation of character beyond the second dimension, she does an excellent job.

And when it comes to both the singing and dancing, she is a born leader of the ensemble. Able to disappear into the background when the plot calls for it, but equally with the ability to draw the eye towards her when her character needs to be seen. It’s a clever, slick and utterly professional performance.

Ali Bastian also appears to have what it takes to step up to the level required for her role. Her Roxie is happy to be seduced by a fit young man with a large and well-defined physique – and equally calm in his callous shooting when he has the audacity to spurn her.

And indeed, Bastian is a dependably naive and self-centred Roxie throughout. The more the show goes on, however, and the more she fails to come into her own. Her big numbers are all admirably performed. It is just that they never seem to be performed by Roxie the character, but by Ali Bastian, the dance-contest participant.

Still, she is much more believable in the part than Bernie Nolan is as Mama. Make no mistake, Bernie has a great voice. It’s big and warm and generous. Just the sort of things, sadly, that Mama Morton isn’t. On stage, you just want to up and give her a big hug – where her character is as huggable as a scorpion.

When it comes to sleaze-meister Billy Flynn, Stefan Booth is charming enough. He, too, can get the music out. Indeed, he has a big warm voice that he oozes well into the role, without being truly memorable.

Bizarrely enough, Jamie Baughan as Roxie’s largely invisible and long-suffering husband Amos is rather more memorable than Booth. Thanks to a top rendition of Mister Cellophane – complete with white gloves to give him life in the darkness of the surrounding corruption.

A solid production of a great musical. The stars do enough to please those who have paid their money to see them, without actively discouraging those who are just there for the spectacle.

Run ends Saturday 28 April


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