I’ll start by saying this is the best performance of a musical I’ve ever seen: including a variety of West End shows. The dynamic energy of the cast shines through from the very first number. The smouldering, sexy jazz-style musical numbers are underpinned by a rather seedy and sinister plot. The production balances this perfectly and I believe it’s this combination that makes the show so spine-tinglingly good.
Sophie Carmen-Jones dominates the stage as murderess Velma Kelly from the very first number, All That Jazz. Her voice is not only technically brilliant, but her rich tone is unusual too – perfect for the show’s classic songs. I was slightly concerned by her over-the-top facial expressions at first, but Carmen-Jones soon settles in and relaxes into the part. Her sexy stage presence contrasts with the girlish grins and stage-school-esque performance by Hayley Tamaddon. Playing Roxie Hart, a woman who kills her lover and gets caught up in the corrupt world of chasing fame and notoriety, Tamaddon is likeable and technically very good. She plays the role innocently, with little intrinsic sex appeal, which clashes slightly with the killer character she is portraying.
Both murderesses seek the help of top lawyer Billy Flynn, played by John Partridge. I wasn’t keen on his first number, All I Care About – it seems a bit forced and overdone, which isn’t the case at all for the rest of Partridge’s performance. He plays Billy Flynn with a seedy sinister twist, his snide remarks and manipulative smirks bounding off the stage with stunning intensity. His cold character is a total contrast from the diffident husband of Roxie Hart, Amos. The character is played adorably by Neil Ditt and his innocence brings much needed kindness to the story. He adds a cuteness to rival that of Toto from Wizard of Oz, and I don’t know quite how he manages it.
Matron ‘Mama’ Morton “helps” Velma and Roxie on their journey to freedom. Though a relatively small part, Jessie Wallace brings gravitas to the role. Her lead number, When You’re Good to Mama, is sinisterly charismatic and I sat throughout her performance with an entranced smile. Another character I simple have to mention is the good-hearted reporter Mary Sunshine, played by A D Richardson. I don’t want to add a spoiler… but wow.
The ensemble cast are fantastic, and are each recognisable in their roles. Cell Block Tango is unbelievably polished with all the right undertones, styling and feeling bubbling away throughout.
The costumes, designed by William Ivey Long, allow the cast to own the stage with effortless sexy swagger, without losing class or looking stripper-esque, which is always a danger when donning suggestive outfits.
I can’t find a single fault in the slick choreography by Ann Reinking, sharp direction from Walter Bobbie and breathtaking set by John Lee Beatty that perfectly showcases the live orchestra. The orchestra are not only fantastic musicians, but awesome performers as well. The MD interacts with the cast, and the orchestra seamlessly become part of the ensemble at various points throughout the show. This adds a beautiful dimension and truly gives you Jazz Club vibes and a buzz from such rich live music.
I have just one criticism – not including an encore or a long enough end bow didn’t give the audience chance to rise to a standing ovation. I’ve never seen an off-West End show so staggeringly brilliant, and all involved deserved to have a full house on their feet to give the appreciation that performance deserved.
Reading this back, I think I’ve written an encyclopedia of positive adjectives… but it really is that good. Whatever you do, don’t miss this spectacular production.