Date 4th October 2019
Society Starlight Theatre Productions
Venue The Exchange, Howard Street, North Shields
Type of Production Musical
Director Bryan Watson
Musical Director Andrew Soulsby
Choreographer Sandra Laidler
Producer Ken Anderson


Author: Michael Lee Avery

Although I’ve seen “Chicago” before, show and film, I came to it with slightly different eyes after the recent tv mini-series about choreographer Bob Fosse and his muse, dancer Gwen Verdon, who were instrumental in getting the show onto the Broadway stage.  Here we have a rather smaller stage but, still, a big show.
Not your usual boy-girl musical romance, “Chicago” takes a very glitzy, glamorous look at what is really the seamy underbelly of that city. The direction of Bryan Watson and Sandra Laidler’s choreography merge together seamlessly with the very impressive ensemble cast, to create a truly memorable production.  Set primarily in a cell block of Cook County Jail in the 1920s, many of the characters are based upon real people. Here, leading roles are inhabited by Lucy Sutton as the landing’s de facto boss Velma Kelly; Bethanie Mitchinson as accused murderer Roxie Hart; Jamie Douglass is lawyer Billy Flynn; Katie Howes is the Matron, Mama Morton; Phil Dixon is Roxie’s husband, Amos; Stephen Stokoe (a.k.a. Rose Hovick) is reporter Mary Sunshine. 
Lucy, as Velma, invites us in with a vampy “And All That Jazz”, with the Ensemble, before her status is threatened by Roxie’s arrival.  Roxie is manipulative and cunning.  Bethanie introduces her, appropriately, in “Roxie”.  She’s sweet one minute, deceptive the next. Jamie epitomises the smooth-talking shyster, even able to manipulate Roxie, as when working her from behind, as a puppet in his lap, in “We Both Reached For The Gun”.  Billy also gets to display his legal prowess, with the Ensemble, in “Razzle Dazzle”.  Katie’s Mama Morton makes her position clear in “When You’re Good To Mama”.  “Rose Hovick”, as the "star struck" reporter, performs “A Little Bit of Good“ in Billy’s office and joins in “We Both Reached For The Gun” leading towards “her” final reveal.  After Billy works his verbal magic, Roxie and Velma ultimately become a deadly song and dance act.
The most affecting performance, however, is that of Phil as poor, faithful, cuckolded Amos.  His performance of “Mr Cellophane” genuinely touched the audience and his lack of exit music elicited sympathetic laughter and, perhaps, a supressed tear or two.

The Ensemble featured a quite large group of male and female dancers and singers, many of whom are very familiar to me, but whom I rarely have the opportunity to praise.  They were impressive in every scene which required them to dance, sing or act in.  It was an absolute pleasure to see them together in this production.  Andrew Soulsby’s nine piece orchestra made a big and impressive sound in all the right places.  In fact, the only thing wrong was that the show was not on a grander stage in a grander venue!