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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Chicago
Adelphi Theatre 1997-2006; Cambridge Theatre 2006-2011; Garrick Theatre 2011-2012

This Kander & Ebb musical is not only a great show in itself but also an object lesson in how a brilliant original production can be eclipsed by an even more brilliant revival, so allow me to start with a bit of a history lesson. 

Chicago originally appeared on Broadway in 1975, starring Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach (than whom you just couldn't get any better) and ran for three years. In 1996, as part of a series of very-short-run musicals-in-concert, Walter Bobbie directed a semi-staged concert version that was such a hit that it moved to Broadway and has been running there and in London ever since.

Chicago is the satirical story of a 1920s showgirl who literally gets away with murder because her clever lawyer manipulates the media and the system. Kander and Ebb were at their best with sly and cynical songs (Think of Cabaret), and numbers like 'All That Jazz', 'Razzle-dazzle' and 'Nowadays' have the songwriters' signature bite. 

But even the sweeter-sounding numbers are sharp-edged – 'Me and My Baby' isn't a love song, but the heroine's hope that a lie about being pregnant will let her escape the gallows, 'All I Care About Is Love' is the totally misleading anthem of the money-grubbing lawyer, and 'Mr. Cellophane' is the lament of a man nobody ever notices. 

The original production was great. What Walter Bobbie did to improve on it was strip away sets and scenery and much of the dialogue, putting his cast on a narrow forestage in front of the orchestra and – major piece of brilliance here – break with the usual pattern of concert versions by bringing dancers onstage for Anne Reinking's recreation of Bob Fosse's choreography.

Fosse was, of course, the most brilliant Broadway choreographer of his age, and his unmistakeable mix of writhing sensuality and strutting razzmatazz is the real driving force of this version. From the minute those dancers with their impossibly long legs and supple shoulderblades slither across the stage, sex is in the air and we are in the hands of a real master.

In a real sense it is the chorus line that is the star of this show, though the London version has over the past fourteen years featured established stars of the West End (Ruthie Henshall, Maria Friedman) and cabaret (Ute Lemper) along with rising stars such as Anita Louise Combe and Anna-Jane Casey and the occasional dip into gimmick casting from television (Jerry Springer, Denise Van Outen) and pop music (Marti Pelow, Darius Campbell).

We've returned to Chicago several times during its run and always found it as tight and polished as ever, and so it remains on our Must See list.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Chicago - Garrick Theatre

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