Thomas Howells reviews Chicago the Musical at Cardiff’s New Theatre starring Faye Brookes, Djalenga Scott, Lee Mead and Brenda Edwards.
Chicago The Musical, which plays Cardiff’s New Theatre this week, is undeniably an incredible representation of the society of 1920s USA and a great motivator to research further into it.
The musical made use of a very minimalistic set, only really consisting of a few chairs, a ladder and very little use of props. The set was used well, with the company utilising a chair to its full multi-tasked potential through creative chairography. Then of course there is the iconic ladder, a memorable staple in Chicago and used with enough scarcity and variety that it couldn’t get old. Sometimes props have more symbolism, for example there is use of a machine gun, which was a very popular weapon for gangs of the time.
Like a time-capsule of 1920s USA, Chicago The Musical strongly has an emphasis on dance, featuring the company utilising many popular genres of the era including the Charleston.
Under the musical direction of Andrew Hilton, the 10-piece band perform in the style of a 1920s Jazz band, were also incorporated into the set, I found this gave it a very immersive, speakeasy feel. As well as conveying the importance of music and dance of the era, the band came further to life with certain members even sharing a few lines.
Naturally, there’s a heavy reference to Jazz, it was certainly reflective of the era. The structure of the musical requires many songs to be broken up by short scenes of dialogue. One example is The Cell Block Tango. I feel that this song could work better as it feels like a comedy skit that I don’t find entirely funny. Undeniably though, it got many laughs from the audience as a whole and this is just a case of personal taste. It’s dark comedy, but not like you’d find so much of today.
Despite the dramatic nature of Chicago, the company are more than able to embrace the humour. Faye Brookes, Djalenga Scott, Lee Mead and Brenda Edwards all shine in their lead roles.
Faye Brookes and Djalenga Scott combine the aspects of diva and independence in their portrayals of Roxie and Velma respectively. The characters may forge a partnership with no love lost, but the magic of their performances solo or together are strong and powerful throughout the show. Their coming together for Nowadays and Hot Honey Rag at the shows climax are among the shows glittering highlights.
Brenda Edwards played one of my favourite characters as Mama Morton. I feel she was the perfect choice for the role and reflected it well – with a great look and powerful personality.
Lee Mead captures money-driven lawyer Billy Flynn brilliantly with a combination of smoothness and directness, bringing sparkle to the company numbers Razzle Dazzle and We Both Reached for The Gun.
I think it would be amiss to not mention the visually pleasing lighting that pulls the show together. There are elements of symbolism with the lighting with Roxie’s dejected husband Amos following the spotlight, rather than it follow him. Jamie Baughan creates an incredible representation of Amos, which gained much appreciation and sympathy from the audience. Hollie Jane Stephens final moments as the seemingly wrongly convicted Hunyak are also powerful as she climbs the rungs of the ladder to her demise. Lighting Designer, Ken Billington deserves a lot of credit for these great scenes.
Designer, William Ivey Long goes above and beyond creating costume designs reflective of the era from Roxie and Velma’s flapper style dresses to Amos’ plain suit reflecting his personality.
Sprinkled with much Razzle Dazzle in the shape of jazz, culture, drama and comedy. Chicago is simply unmissable!
- Chicago The Musical continues at Cardiff’s New Theatre until June 25, 2022. For ticket details visit the New Theatre’s website.