Congress Players

Director: John Wood

Musical Director: Paul Firth

Choreography: Jane Wood


Most audiences might think Chicago has always been a “must see musical”. When it opened in 1975, it was eclipsed by “A Chorus Line”. This meant that it would take some time for this hocus-pocus-of-phoney-celebrities show to find its own place in musical history. But such has been its success that it is now almost always being played somewhere in the world.


This stripped-back production, with the minimum of props helped to “sex-up” the Vaudevillian burlesque. The performing space, with the audience on three sides, was credibly used by the company. The company members were costumed in black which added that extra something to the overall concept. The drama was well served by the lighting and sound designs.


As the show was taken out of the proscenium arch the microscope focused on all the characters. While the director lifted the humour he kept the piece edgy and chilling. The orchestra delivered raunchy and sassy sounds for the ladies of Cook County Jail who are seeking celebrity status through their infamy. The impressive hip–thrusting and high–kicking choreography was an asset to the dramatic content.


The ensemble, which also covered the cameo and supporting roles, gave accomplished performances. Matron “Mama” Morton, for a bribe, can supply the prisoners those little extras. Sam Bates, as the jail den-mother was strong in character. On a purely personal level,  I just wondered whether a little more of Sophie Tucker styling might have completed the characterisation. Believing there is a little bit of good in everyone is Mary Sunshine, the tabloid columnist. Jack Hawkins, as the sappy journalist, parodied the operatic style with entertaining vocal gymnastics.


Roxie’s uninteresting husband, Amos, was given a completely new interpretation by Mat Hepplestone. During his solo, Amos turned into Auguste, the white-faced clown. The application of the make-up and the final smearing it off was so powerful. Mat gave a hugely effective performance.


The ringmaster himself, the suave, very manipulative, Billy Flynn entered the three ring circus. He would do almost anything for money and would make celebrities of his killer clients. His media manipulation of murder trials was not unlike the O.J Simpson trial. In fine voice, Gareth Smith’s portrayal of the courtroom charmer was on the mark.


Competing for publicity as much as their freedom are the two lead murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart. Laura Meredith-Hoyle presented a tough-edged Roxie with just a soupçon of feline vivaciousness. She was both wicked and dumb pulling off a slick “We Both Reached for the Gun”.


Velma Kelly, the sexy small-time hoofer, is awaiting trial for murdering her cheating husband. Amy Mason’s portrayal of the hard-bitten femme fatale, Velma, was stylised and impressively delivered.


It is easy to see why this show has become a masterpiece of musical theatre. This revival allowed the power of the story, music and characters to ‘Razzle Dazzle’.