Musical Review: Chicago, Crown Theatre, WA

One of the longest running musicals on Broadway is returning to tour Australia, first stop Perth.
Chicago. Image is a chorus line of dancers grouped behind a woman in a very short black dress and stockings. All have their right arms raised and wrists slightly bent, and their right legs bent so they're on tiptoe.

The name on everybody’s lips.

In 1926, a courthouse reporter named Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote Chicago – a play based loosely on the trials of two Chicago murder suspects. In 1975, Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander adapted Watkins’ play to become a beloved musical of the same name. Now, in 2023, the jazz, booze and crime of Chicago are coming back to audiences around Australia. 

Chicago centres on accused murderesses Velma Kelly (Zoë Ventoura) and Roxie Hart (Lucy Maunder), who exploit their sensational notoriety with the help of their smooth-talking lawyer, Billy Flynn (Anthony Warlow). After all, an innocent woman can be wrongly convicted just as easily as a guilty one can be wrongly acquitted, which Chicago makes playfully clear across two and a half hours of delectable dancing, sexy slapstick and jazzy earworms. 

Resplendent in 1920s glamour, this murderous Broadway favourite has been resurrected by a star-studded cast and outstanding creative team in spectacular fashion. Every character, from manipulative Matron Mama Morton (Asabi Goodman) to Warlow’s slick Billy Flynn, brings charisma, humour, attitude and vocal prowess to the stage. Ventoura shines as Velma Kelly, opening with her captivating rendition of ‘All That Jazz’. 

This sexy-satirical critique of the media-circus depiction of lurid events hums with cheeky energy. Standout scenes like Hart’s captivating press conference and Billy Flynn’s show-stopping entrance woo the audience with impeccable timing and theatrical flair. The audience is audibly excited as Flynn appears with six merry murderesses fan-dancing around him in a burlesque-flavoured ‘All I Care about is Love’.

The much anticipated ‘Cell Block Tango’ lives up to its reputation, with six spotlights, six chairs and six outstanding performances. ‘Mr Cellophane’ himself, the pitiful Amos Hart (Peter Rowsthorn) is a surprising crowd favourite, with declarations of love and unrivalled applause from the audience.

Created by the musical theatre talents of John Kander, Fred Ebb and legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, Chicago features set design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Ken Billington and sound design by the talented Julian Spink. The orchestra takes centre stage without distracting from the action, which occurs both in and around it. 

Fosse’s choreography is at once smooth and striking, highlighted artfully by Long’s evocative lighting design. Shining lights blind the audience (because justice is blind?) as Hart’s trial begins and the stage glows ominously red during murderous moments. Billington’s monochromatic costume design brings a cohesively glamorous aesthetic to this jazzy feat of vaudevillian perfection. 

Beginning with a whisper and building to a bang, Kander’s brilliant composition converges with Ebb’s exceptional lyrics and Fosse’s killer choreography, culminating in an unforgettable night of music and murder. The ultimate emptiness of attention and narcissism boasts versatile stage design, expert artistic execution (no pun intended) and the ‘double act you’ve all been waiting for’. Explorations into the futility of attention-seeking have never been more relevant, sexy or fun. 

Chicago’s Australian tour has kicked off at the Crown Theatre in Perth. 

Read: Performance review: 35mm, Flight Path Theatre

From the overture to the bows, Chicago enthrals with velvet voices, jazz hands, adultery, humour and murder. It will resonate with lovers of cabaret, jazz, black comedy and murder trials. 

Crown Theatre, WA
Created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Set design: John Lee Beatty
Costume design: William Ivey Long
Lighting design: Ken Billington 
Sound design: Julian Spink

Orchestrations: Ralph Burns
Vocal Arranger: Rob Fisher
Script Adaptation: David Thompson
Dance Music Arrangements: Peter Howard
Musical Director: James Simpson

Cast: Anthony Warlow, Zoë Ventoura, Lucy Maunder, Peter Rowsthorn, Asabi Goodman, S Valeri
Ensemble and swing: Hayden Baum, Devon Braithwaite, Olivia Carniato, Angelique Cassimatis, Todd Dewberry, Louis Fontaine, Sarah Heath, Scout Hook, Matthew Jenson, Ethan Jones, Savannah Lind, Kristina McNamara, Tom New, Nathan Pinnell, Rania Potaka-Osborne, Priscilla Stavrou and Romina Villafranca

Tickets: $79-$199

Chicago will play at Crown Theatre until 17 December before touring to the Lyric Theatre QPAC from 2 January 2024, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from 23 March, the Capitol Theatre, Sydney from 9 June and the Festival Theatre, Adelaide from 4 August.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.