Friday, March 10, 2017


Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Jim McMullen
Musical Direction by Chris Ronan
Canberra Philharmonic Society to 25 March

Review by Len Power 9 March 2017

‘Chicago’, first produced on Broadway in 1975, has gone from a modest success originally to become a phenomenon that audiences flock to regardless of how many times they’ve already seen it.

The story of ‘Chicago’ focusses on two women on trial for different murders.  The show satirises corruption in the legal system as well as the publicity circus that makes celebrities out of criminals.  There’s a vaudeville element to the show dictated by the way many of the numbers are performed.

‘Chicago’ needs two very capable female leading players and Philo’s production is blessed with the great Canberra duo, Vanessa De Jager as Roxie Hart and Kelly Roberts as Velma Kelly.  As Roxie, Vanessa De Jager is an almost Marilyn Monroe type which works fine.  She sings extremely well and gives a performance full of depth, humour and real emotion.  The character of Velma Kelly doesn’t have the same depth of character in the script, but Kelly Roberts plays this hard-bitten dame with great assurance and sings brilliantly.

Will Huang as the ‘prince of the courtroom’, Billy Flynn, the lawyer defending Roxie and Velma, sings his songs with great charisma but his deliberate line delivery slows the show down.  There’s good work from Jonathan Rush as Amos Hart, Shell Tully as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton and Ben Wilson is a very strong Mary Sunshine.  The large and enthusiastic chorus sings and dances the show very well.

The set design by Ian Croker and Jim McMullen looks good and has all the right period elements.  The placement of the orchestra to one side of the stage caused some sound balance problems for those of us sitting on the opposite side of the auditorium and the music under the dialogue scenes is far too loud.  Apart from that, the orchestra under the baton of Chris Ronan, played the jazzy score very well.

Costumes designed by Jill McMullen followed the black lingerie style of the 1996 Broadway production.  It was well executed but it would be good to see a production of this show that comes up with something original.  There was really good choreography by Emily Appleton and Hannah Carey and the cast danced it very well.

The production lacked pace and subtlety.  The farcical courtroom scene is much funnier if played at speed and there was too much shouting of lines from the cast for no apparent reason.  Nevertheless, the show is as entertaining as always.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays).