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Chicago at Alexandra Theatre Birmingham - Review

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by ABC Writer (subscribe)
Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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X Factor's Sinitta stars in famous musical
Sexy, sassy and all that jazz... Chicago was a huge theatre favourite long before the Renee Zellweger/Catherine Zeta Jones movie scooped up awards at the Oscars.

Chicago, Birmingham, alexandra theatre
Stylish dance routines and songs in Chicago

Even now, with its return to Birmingham, Chicago's stage version offers something totally unique and intoxicating, yet so different from the movie.

Starring Sinitta and TV stars Darren Day and Faye Brookes, Chicago is on at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre until Saturday January 29.

Set in the heady, jazz-era times of 1930's Chicago when the stars of the day were mobsters and murderers, it's a cynical look at the American justice system as various lady killers from a women's prison resort to any lengths for freedom.

While the film was a more narrative piece, moving from jazz clubs to behind prison walls and a courtroom, the stage version is more of a metaphor for the underlying story.

Sinitta in Chicago, alexandra theatre, Birmingham
Sinitta singing in Chicago as Mama Morton

It's all set in a jazz club as a macabre kind of cabaret with a live band. All the characters are the entertainment furthering on the plot through each act. It's clever, witty and well thought out - with stunning dance routines.

Everything moves along seamlessly in the super slick show with a small troupe of excellent provocative dancers in saucy black underwear-cum-leotards giving added oomph to the leads through the famous, sensual Bob Fosse choreography.

Central to it all are our anti-heroines Velma Kelly(Djalenga Scott) and Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) both up for murder charges and desperate for the cunning of showbiz lawyer Billy Flynn(Darren Day) to get them out.

But battling for media attention and the spotlight, they end up going up against each other.

They are incarcerated alongside fellow jailbirds whose stories are revealed in the sublime song Cell Block Tango - one of the all-time best musical numbers.

It still brings goosebumps when you see it performed live, with its row of femme fatales in skimpy black outfits screaming 'He had it coming'. It didn't disappoint this time around either.

Darren day, Chicago musical, Birmingham
Darren Day plays slick lawyer Billy Flynn

These ladies are all are under the watchful eye of prison governer Mama Morton, played by Sinitta. More famous for being on X Factor aside Simon Cowell than her 1980's singing career of pop hits including So Macho, you forget that she can sing, and she really can.

Sinitta gave Mama a more kindly demeanour than I've seen for this authoritarian figure and is maybe a little less confident than her colleagues on stage. Her duet Class with West End actress Djalenga Scott, playing Velma, is a quieter moment of the show but beautifully tender too.

Experienced Scott, whose lengthy experience as Velma goes back to her time playing her in London's West End, gives her the arrogance and confidence needed for this already famous showgirl facing a murder rap of her sister and lover.

This was the role that won Catherine Zeta Jones an Academy Award and has some of the toughest routines in the show, but she does them with elegance and ease.

Chicago, Birmingham, alexandra theatre
West End star Djalenga Scott, left, as Velma and Faye Brookes, right, as Roxie in Chicago

Scott was well matched by Coronation Street and Dancing on Ice contestant Brookes as Roxie. Her strength is her acting ability and she really brought out the humour in the role as this self-centered, ambitious yet strangely likeable young lady.

Her big 'ventriloquist' number with Darren Day's Billy Flynn, We Both Reached For The Gun, was one of those glitzy showstoppers that brings so much joy.

Joel Montague as Roxie's husband Amos Hart gives the understated performance of the show, quietly wrenching at the heart, particularly in his solo Mr Cellophane.

For many who missed the big-hitting musical shows through lockdown, Chicago is the epitome of what was so longed for. Beautifully crafted, sung and danced that even comes with jazz hands.

There's good reason Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway and West End history, opening back in 1996.

It's glorious to see this kind of award-winning show back touring to the city with a fine cast. Chicago feels just as sexy, smoldering and vibrant as ever. Get a piece of this razzle-dazzle while you can.

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Why? See award winning musical Chicago in Birmingham
When: Until Sat January 29, 2021
Phone: 0207 206 1174
Where: Alexandra Theatre, Suffolk Queensway, Birmingham
Cost: From £13
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