‘Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it / And the reaction will be passionate,’ sings Billy Flynn in the Chicago favourite ‘Razzle Dazzle’. He’s talking, of course, about Roxie Hart’s carefully orchestrated murder trial, but the line could just as easily describe the musical itself. After all, Chicago has been seen by more than 31 million people worldwide, and is the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history. If that’s not a passionate audience reaction, I don’t know what is…
Let’s start with the story. The drama unfolds in 1920s Chicago, a whirling maelstrom of jazz, liquor and nightlife. Roxie Hart is a chorus girl who dreams of stardom and the thrill of seeing her name in the papers. Her wish is granted when, in a moment of passion, she kills her lover and is taken to Cook County Jail to await trial. There she meets her vaudeville idol, Velma Kelly, and a gang of other murderesses who were all pushed just a little too far by the men in their lives. Their cell block is run by the morally dubious Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, who trades favours and plays favourites so well, you’d swear she was running for office. Courtesy of Morton, Hart engages the services of hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn, ‘the silver-tongued prince of the courtroom’. He proceeds to manipulate the media to sway public opinion – and consequently the jury – in Hart’s favour. Meanwhile, as her star begins to fade, Velma Kelly plots to get even with the scene-stealing Hart…
The show was originally created in 1975 by John Kander, Fred Ebb and the legendary choreographer Bob Fosse. Its glamour and exuberance can perhaps be attributed to the independent spirit of that decade, but the plot is taken directly from the 1926 Broadway play of the same name, by Maurine Dallas Watkins. A Chicago Tribune journalist, Watkins was inspired by the sensational real-life trials of two women, who each allegedly murdered her respective lover while under the heady influence of jazz and alcohol. Both women were acquitted, despite overwhelming evidence against them.
Though popular, the 1975 Broadway production wasn’t wildly successful, losing in both prestige and ticket sales to A Chorus Line, which opened around the same time. Walter Bobbie and Ann Reinking’s 1996 revival, however, took the world by storm and, 23 years later, it is still being performed on Broadway, in the West End and in 34 other countries around the world.
It was only in 2005 that South African audiences were treated to this smash hit, which returned in 2008 due to popular demand. Now, 11 years later, it’s back to razzle-dazzle us again. The all-South African cast, orchestra and crew recently returned from highly successful runs in New Zealand and China, and will be heading to Germany and Austria following the local leg of their tour. ‘We are delighted to have most of the original company for our return, and I believe the tremendous talents of each and every member in the company will take this all-South African production to even greater heights in 2019,’ says Hazel Feldman, the production’s SA producer.
Chicago may be a decades-old musical, set nearly a century ago, but its themes are eerily relevant to today’s times. It touches on ideas of feminism and acceptable female roles within society, manipulation of the media and ‘fake news’, the lengths some will go to for celebrity status, and the way the privileged all but get away with murder. If anything, it’s a commentary on how little social progress we’ve made in 100 years. However, it’s served up with such gusto and pizzazz that it isn’t until the drive home that you realise you were rooting for the villains all along. That’s Chicago.
MEET THE LEADING LADIES
SAMANTHA PEO as VELMA KELLY
This is your third time on the Chicago playbill. What keeps bringing you back?
Playing Roxie in 2005 was my comeback into musical theatre. I completely identified with the vaudevillian style, with Kander and Ebb’s music, and with Bob Fosse’s choreography. Once you have been bitten by the Chicago bug, it never leaves your heart, so it’s an absolute blessing to be a part of this incredible show again, this time playing Velma!
CARMEN PRETORIUS as ROXIE HART
What’s your favourite number of Roxie’s?
I absolutely love doing ‘Nowadays’ and ‘Hot Honey Rag’. I am so transported in that moment. At the end of a gruelling two-and-a-half hours of performing and after the intricate, emotional journey of being Roxie, I get to do this fabulous piece of ‘Fossean’ art, belting out in true Kander and Ebb style. I also just adore doing all of that alongside Sam. She has always been my greatest inspiration in the local industry, and I feel very safe and inspired around her.
Book your seat
Venue Artscape Opera House
Date 15 March – 14 April
Venue The Teatro at Montecasino
Date 20 April – 26 May
Tickets Visit computicket.com