Review: Nadine Lee

I confess.  I have an addiction.

I have seen Chicago the Musical more than once, more than twice even.  Truthfully, I don’t know how many times I have seen it.  There’s been Australia, the West End, Broadway.  Let’s just say, if they needed someone to release the razzle-dazzle confetti on precisely the right beat just as Billy Flynn raises his right arm and-¦then I’m your gal.

So I know the drill -“ the desperate, sexy tale of infamous merry murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, scheming their fifteen minutes of fame, enabled by a greasy-palmed lawyer, a licentious prison warden and a gaggle of tabloid hacks.  All set during Prohibition in Chicago in the 1920s-¦and all that jazz.

It is not a cutesy boy-meets-girl musical.  There’s no collage of jukebox hits.  No wow-factor revolving set constructions and elaborate costuming.  In fact, Chicago is one of the rare shows that dictates almost the same exact staging no matter where you see it in the world.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So there was no chance this revival of the Kander and Ebb classic was going to leave a self-confessed Chicago-aholic blown away, feeling as if it were the first time she was meeting Bob Fosse choreography, right?

Think again.

Murder, greed, corruption, adultery-¦it has never looked so good.

Australian producer John Frost has assembled a stellar cast this time around.  And stellar they must be.  With a pared-back set, band centre-stage, few props, and costumes not leaving much to the imagination, every movement, every note, every inch of the ensemble is literally in full view.  The audience won’t miss a step, but thankfully neither does the cast.

Heading up the Cook County Jail seductresses is Australia’s darling of musical theatre Caroline O’Connor.  Reprising the role that debuted her as a Broadway star in 2002, O’Connor’s comedic Velma Kelly is captivating.

From the moment O’Connor sashays down the staircase, amidst the smoky film-noir lighting to take command of the show-stealing All That Jazz, the benchmark is set.  She makes everything look easy and her ebullient spirit in I Can’t Do It Alone leaves the audience puffing.  O’Connor’s reputation as a true triple threat is on full display and quite simply, it is a delight to watch.  Is there any better Velma Kelly?  My addiction thinks not.

O’Connor’s partner in crime is also at the top of her game.  When Sharon Millerchip sings the name on everybody’s lips is gonna be Roxie, she may well have been predicting the audience chatter about her own performance. Millerchip shines as a vulnerable, yet clued-in Roxie Hart.  Her impish portrayal is at its best during her showstopper Roxie.  As she breaks the fourth wall to reveal Roxie’s ambitions to the audience, we are as seduced as the sycophantic reporters willing Roxie’s innocence.

O’Connor and Millerchip make the perfect double act.

No doubt many punters are there to see Kath and Kim comedienne Gina Riley.  At first it is difficult to look past the TV persona, but her fans will be dropping their jaws at her powerful voice.  Riley’s Matron Mama Morton may lack the grunt and attitude of Queen Latifah’s celluloid portrayal, but she holds her own with O’Connor in their duet, Class, establishing a worthy musical theatre presence.

Solo male lead is suitably suave former Neighbours heartthrob Craig McLachlan, as smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn.  At times McLachlan walks a fine line between slick and saccharine but he croons through All I Care About Is Love and Razzle Dazzle as a capable showman.

Shout out to Damien Bermingham who, as Amos Hart, Roxie’s tortured, ever-trusting fool husband, garners much affection from the audience at the end of his Mister Cellophane lament.

And if there is any more complementary chorus of players in musical theatre at the moment, then I would like to see them.  Impressive, sexy, hardworking, they don’t miss a beat.  No doubt a slew of stars in the making.

Some musicals date, but in an era of media beat-ups and faux celebrities, this narrative still holds much currency – a mordant vignette of only in America.

Chicago the Musical is arguably a bellwether of musical theatre and this production is near flawless.  It follows the Chicago formula but its world-class performances and orchestra give it fresh life. You will be toe-tapping as you leave the theatre and humming the brilliant score for a long time to come.

One visit won’t be enough.

I’ll see you in rehab when the season finishes.

info: Chicago is playing the Lyric Theatre, Star City until August 9.

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