REVIEW: Chicago – “Sophie Carmen Jones and Hayley Tamaddon deliver a masterclass in sharing the spotlight”

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Its sometimes inevitable that when a stage show that has been turned into a film comes back around on tour again, it can become a little stale. But, not all stage shows are Chicago.

With a score to die for (no pun intended) by Kander and Ebb, the 1920s prison-set story of the all-singing, all-dancing murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who get banged up for offing their blokes, is timeless.

The staging was unsettling at first. Having the orchestra on stage instead of in the pit is a unique take on the show and I initially thought it would be a distraction. But, as in most shows, the musicians are the real stars and huddled on stage like a jazz club ensemble, they end up blending right in.

This show relies on strong performances from its two leading ladies.

Hayley Tamaddon hams it up as Roxie. A more comedic take on the character than I’ve seen before, she shows real skill; I couldn’t help but imagine her as an Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (which she would SLAY) or Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide. Although I would have liked to have seen a more dramatic side to the character and her take can sometimes be borderline slapstick, Tamaddon’s singing can’t be faulted. She shines brightest during Funny Honey and Me and My Baby, and whenever she is opposite her Velma.

The lady in question is played by Sophie Carmen Jones, who is a force to be reckoned with as Ms Kelly. Killer moves (again, no pun intended) and a classic, sultry voice of yesteryear, like a Judy or a Liza, she makes a big impression right from the opening bars of All That Jazz. Seductively prowling around stage and hitting her mark every time to perfection, when she takes to the stand she brings the house down. Her duet with Roxie in the finale, Hot Honey Rag, is a masterclass from both in sharing the spotlight.

Cell Block Tango with the chorus girls is always a highlight and these ladies, thankfully, didn’t disappoint. Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini join Tammadon and Carmen Jones in their guilty lament and show wonderful team work and deliciously evil characteristics.

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John Partridge, perhaps best known to television fans as an Eastenders star but in fact a stage veteran of shows like A Chorus Line and Cats, delivers a confident, assured take on greasy lawyer Billy Flynn. He is slick, smooth and in great voice. His ‘exit music’ All I Care About is a big number to tackle and he does it with ease.

After Jesssie Wallace took her final bow at the weekend, it was up with 90s soul diva Mica Paris to fill Mama Morton’s formidable shoes. But, rich and booming as her voice is, her acting chops are not up to scratch and strong vocals don’t make up for her lacklustre, and at times lazy, turn. Mama should be sexy and sleazy and Paris just doesn’t turn it in.

Neil Ditt, on the other hand, puts in a perfectly passive performance as Roxie’s downtrodden husband Amos. His Mr Cellophane earned him a rapturous applause and hearty sympathy in equal measure.

All That Jazz is the musical’s showstopping moment and thankfully, this production is all that and more. A few offences committed, but not enough to throw the book at it. The cast and orchestra give enough Razzle Dazzle to ensure this classic show isn’t going down yet.

Chicago is at the Sunderland Empire until December 3. For tickets and more information, click here

Photos: Catherine Ashmore

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