REVIEW: Chicago, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, December 3

Take a deliciously dark plot, mix in sizzling choreography, sprinkle liberally with razzle dazzle - and you have the perfect Chicago cocktail.

Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 10:07 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 5:34 pm
Hayley Tamaddon as Roxie Hart and John Patridge as Billy Flynn in Chicago.

Never has a spell in prison seemed so appealing than at Cook County Jail where its jailbirds slink about the stage in body stockings and bra tops, revelling in their crimes of passion which become a cause célèbre in Prohobition-era Chicago.

It’s steamy stuff, these are the leggiest lags you’ll ever meet and their Cell Block Tango in Act One where they straddle chairs and hiss out their crimes sets the scene for a show where notoriety, no matter how heinous the crime, is good and being boring is forgettably bad. Forget Prisoner Cell Block H, this is Prisoner Cell Block X-rated.

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Laughing in the face of the law in the joint lead role is former Emmerdale actress Hayley Tamaddon as Roxie Hart, the murderous wannabe who shoots her lover and hopes it will lead to her name in lights.

Roxie needs to be foxy and Hayley is just that. Though she be but little she is fierce in this demanding role, and proves she has a big voice to match her acting skills in numbers such as Roxie and Me and My Baby. She injects some humour too and has a touch of a Cabaret-era Liza Minnelli about her performance.

Her arch nemesis is played by the incredibly lithe Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly who wants the spotlight all for herself. Together, they share a strong dynamic as well as individual triumphs, with Sophie really shining in I Can’t Do It Alone when she kicks as high as Chicago’s Trump Tower. It’s impressive stuff.

It takes a strong man to match their girl power, but John Partridge is the best Billy Flynn I’ve seen in recent tours. The former Eastenders actor masters the American drawl better than most and oozes the charm required of the role. Roxie becomes his vixen of a ventriloquist dummy in We Both Reached For The Gun, a fast-paced tour-de-force of a musical number which almost leaves you out of breath just watching it. It makes John’s impossibly long high note at the end all the more impressive.

Mica Paris means business when it comes to big notes too as Mama Morton. She’s the matriarch of the prison who looks out for the feisty inmates- for a fee.

As you’d expect from the soul singer, her voice soared and her rich, velvety tones were a perfect fit in When You’re Good to Mama.

It’s a glorious score, one with more than just one signature tune, and it’s shown off to full effect by the stripped back, classy staging and minimal costume changes.

The lack of faff - and clothing material - means you can really appreciate Bob Fosse’s sublime choreography too, where every flick of the hip and seductive tilt of the head packs a punch.

It’s also great to see the orchestra take centre stage in this musical, literally, as the action swirls around them. They’re a tight band with a conductor who creates a character all of his own.

Like sass, sultriness and all that jazz? Then Chicago’s your ‘kinda town.