After seeing Chicago I was left feeling a bit hollow. Let’s start however, with the positives. The design was a welcome change from the busy sets that normally occupy the Lyric, with the only setting being the band sitting on stage, tiered like a jury blasting out the fantastic, brassy score. The dancing is spectacular. The Bob Fosse inspired choreography is crisp and exciting, and the ensemble takes to it with vigour. Other than Gina Riley as “Mama” and Damien Birmingham as “Amos” the entire cast produce some truly exhilarating moments. This is matched by superb vocal performances from the cast. The two leads, Caroline O’Connor and Sharon Millerchip are of course outstanding, but they are almost overshadowed by Gina Riley’s impressive range.
The problem with this production was that it had no soul. The story of Chicago is dark and fascinating. It is a tale of sex and violence, of adulteress husbands being killed by their wives, and adulteress wives killing their lovers. The stakes are high for the women in prison as they could all be hung for their offences. It is not a happy, go-lucky tale. Yet that is how it is presented in this production. The show focuses on the razzle dazzle rather than the more dangerous content, and the result was that I simply didn’t give a damn about any of the characters. When an innocent woman is hung, as is the case in the second act, I should care. However, this event had no power, as the character had not been utilised as anything other than shallow comic relief, and as far as I am concerned this was a directorial mistake. I think the major problem was that other than the two leads, who were able to find an integrity in their broad American accents, none of the performers found truth in the text. The ensemble’s brief contributions were generally over-acted (I actually cringed at the judge), Craig McLachlan seemed to be walking through Billy Flynn and I was particularly disappointed in Gina Riley, whose television work I so admire (particularly The Games). Damien Birmingham came as close as one could hope to a few touching moments as the naïve husband Amos, but with no support these glimmers were lost amidst the sparkles. I often find myself defending music theatre as a genre to peers who accuse it of being over-funded, meaningless entertainment. In the case of this production their accusations would be justified. With the minimalist design, I had hoped that a performer-led show would result in a moving experience. Instead, I enjoyed a night of dance and song, which I couldn’t help but feel was an opportunity missed.