The Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh
You have to hand it to Edinburgh University Footlights. This talented student company never shies away from taking on ambitious productions and few shows come with more ambition fitted as standard than Kander and Ebbs’ 1975 masterwork, Chicago. But, down go the lights and on troop the players, dressed to the nines, and supported by a full orchestra, playing to a packed and highly appreciative crowd.
This is, of course, the story of Roxie Hart (Rebecca Joyce), a young woman who ruthlessly guns down her lover when he threatens to walk out on her. The cheek of the man! She soon finds herself in the Cook County Jail, where she discovers that being a notorious killer can pay off, provided you have the right management.
Her main rival here is Velma Kelly (Lauren Robinson), currently riding high after the recent murder of her husband and sister, and being groomed for a career onstage by Matron “Mama” Morton (Niamh Higgins). She tells Roxie that, in order to get ahead, she needs to find five thousand dollars to pay for a lawyer – and lawyers don’t come any slicker than Billie Flynn (Matthew Storey). But, as Roxie and Velma struggle for supremacy, they soon realise that they’ll need every ounce of sass they possess in order to stay newsworthy.
The show gets off to a fabulous start with Robinson – the absolute standout in this show – delivering a terrific performance of All That Jazz and, from there, the pace never lets up as a whole series of Kander and Ebb earworms explode onstage. Joyce gives us a memorable Roxie, making us care about her not so lovable character, while Storey has plenty of swagger as Billy Flynn. There’s a lovely sequence where Higgins wanders through the audience singing When You’re Good to Mama with absolute authority. Hats off also to Alex Andsell, who manages to milk the sympathy as Roxie’s much-put-upon husband, Amos, performing a cracking rendition of Mr Cellophane and then apologising for taking up so much of our time!
But of course, Chicago is – more than anything else – an ensemble piece and it’s in those big dance numbers that amateur productions can so often come unstuck. Not the case here, thanks to the slick choreography of Florence Hardy and that superb big band, bashing out a whole string of memorable songs. Becca Chadder handles the directorial reins with aplomb, yet the programme informs me she’s ‘never directed a musical before.’ Really? Well, she’s done a first rate job here and I’m pleased to be told that she’d like to repeat the experience.
Sadly, we’re late onto this, so you only have a couple of opportunities to catch up with it. If you can grab tickets for one of the final performances, I’d urge you to do so. Let’s face it, we could all do with a little razzle dazzle in our lives.