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  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Performers onstage in Chicago
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This sassy revival feels ever-pertinent in our infamy-driven, true crime-led celebrity culture

There has been a disappointing run of big name shows underserved by low-key production design of late, with both the revivals of Rocky Horror and Grease seriously lacking in the razzle-dazzle department. So why does a similarly stripped-back staging of musical maestro Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb’s Chicago pull it off, like so many of the cast’s silken mesh costume changes?

Perhaps something in the bare bones of this deceptively dark comedy, set in the Windy City in the fast and loose 1920s, lends itself to simplicity?

Delivered via a sassy brawl between warring molls Velma Kelly (Zoë Ventoura) and Roxie Hart (Lucy Maunder), it’s a broken bottle-sharp commentary on an America that values celebrity crime most malignant over justice and the good of heart, that cuts even deeper now we’re staring down the barrel of a possible second Trump term. That swirling, prophetic darkness lends itself well to scenic designer John Lee Beatty’s darkened stage flanked by cabaret chairs and dominated by a bandstand atop which gamely charismatic musical director James Simpson leads a brass-heavy band through John Kander’s razzmatazz music. 

“Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate … What if your hinges all are rusting? What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?”

The contradiction is inherent in the work. And so when Roxie opens the show by shooting dead the beefy but not bright Fred Casely (Devon Braithwaite, a stand-out in a spectacular ensemble) because he had the gall to walk out on her, we watch her rapidly pivot to greasepainted victimhood and then on to fanning the flames of tabloid infamy. It’s a trick she learns after coming face-to-two-faced with villainously vaudeville Velma in lock-up, here minus the usual cage bars, though a pair of swinging ladders at either wing work well. 

In jail, Roxie learns fast that ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ Morton, the matriarchal prison warden magnificently embodied by glinting-eyed Hairspray star Asabi Goodman, doors open for you. Perhaps quite literally, if she gets enough money and loving to put in a call to pinstriped and prowling defence lawyer extraordinaire (and extraordinarily corrupt) Billy Flynn. 

Debonaire musical theatre mainstay Anthony Warlow, a lyrical baritone who has played the demons of both The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd, laps up a roguish game that allows him to deliver the line, “I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago today and he had come to me and he had five thousand dollars, let’s just say things would have turned out differently,” with devilish glee.

Roxie’s lovesick dope of husband Amos is an easy mark for Flynn’s shark, with his big but easily trodden-on heart. Deep down, Amos knows that Roxie doesn’t really want him, but he’ll stand by her anyway. Playing the fool’s not as easy as it looks, which is why Kath and Kim star and stand-up comedian Peter Rowsthorn secures the most rousing ovation come curtain call. His remarkable rendition of ‘Mister Cellophane’ is a show-stopper, layering in the required depth to the line, “Cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there”.

Maunder is ravenously marvellous in the ever-low-reaching role of Roxie, a true scrapper who will claw her way up out of any manhole. And if Ventoura isn’t always able to match her vocally, with the punch dropping out of a few of her big numbers despite being mic-ed, then she’s definitely on a par, performance-wise, with the crooked twist of her lips ever-askance in this wicked dance, dramatically recreated with ample sass by local choreographer Gary Chryst.

Director Karen Johnson Mortimer has her finger on the racing pulse, with leg-showing bodies doused in blood red pops on purple by lighting designer Ken Billington, and William Ivey Long’s sleek and sultry costumes all ensuring that the smoking gun is set for a show that still thrills. “Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?”

Chicago is playing at Her Majesty's Theatre until May 26 and tickets are available here.

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Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell


Her Majesty's Theatre
219 Exhibition St
Nearby stations: Flinders Street; Parliament; Melbourne Central
Various prices
Opening hours:
Various times

Dates and times

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