Usually, touring productions are to their West End equivalent what Joey was to Friends, The New Class to Saved By The Bell, Joanie Loves Chaaci to Happy Days – diluted, cheaper, less-good versions of the original. So it’s with relief and joy that I can declare that Lunchbox Productions’ Chicago, playing at the HKAPA’s Lyric Theatre until June 20, is defiantly not a case of the above. This version of Chicago would more than happily stand on its own fishnet-clad legs on a London stage. With added jazz hands, of course.
As always with anything Bob Fosse touched, it’s the choreography that’s the star. The ensemble here are fabulous – sexy, sinuous, slinky and with the perfect Fosse hands. I’ve seen the All That Jazz routine countless times but this may just have been the best yet and they are darkly mesmerising throughout, occasionally to the detriment of the main characters and especially brilliant in the courtroom scenes and the eye-popping acrobatics of Razzle Dazzle. It’s a show in which the ensemble are more than just a chorus line; getting involved in the action with a multitude of bit-parts, they deliver practically as many laughs as the main characters.
In fact, my only criticism – and I really am nit-picking as a seasoned musical-goer – is that there were possibly a few too many laughs (even if poor comic timing means that the cast don’t milk nearly enough from usual standout number, Cell Block Tango). As a show about the cult of celebrity, notoriety and ambition, Kander & Ebb’s writing has much to offer a modern audience yet I felt that this production sometimes took the easy route towards the funny bone. Sharon Millerchip’s Roxie Hart has all the ingredients to be the star of the show – a natural wide-eyed charm, bright vocals and the ability to light up the stage whilst hoofing with the best of them (I particularly enjoyed her rendition of Me And My Baby whilst the ventriloquist’s dummy act in We Both Reached For The Gun never fails to delight) – but I’d have liked to see her rely less on her obvious gift for physical comedy in some of her solos.
Deone Zanotto’s Velma Kelly has a wonderfully brassy voice and brings a suitably brassy edge to her performance but I felt she had more to give on two renowned Fosse workouts, I Can’t Do It Alone and When Velma Takes The Stand. Meanwhile, Craig McLachlan’s (Henry Ramsay of the bad 80s perm on Neighbours) silver-tongued lawyer, Billy Flynn, gets lost to the brilliance of the dancers – a few more charisma classes required – and I didn’t feel all that safe with his vocals, either.
The live orchestra is on-stage throughout and cleverly worked into proceedings (conductor Ben Van Tieden is particularly good value for money) and they bring a real energy to proceedings, garnering some of the biggest cheers of the night – as do D C Harlock’s Mary Sunshine and the empathetically dopey Damien Birmingham, as Roxie’s husband Amos (hopefully not just because he was singing ‘that song off Glee’, Mr Cellophane).
Overall, it’s a tremendous night’s entertainment that barely puts a foot (or note) wrong. Chicago may lack the warmth of other big-event musicals, yet more than makes up for it with a grown-up cold-blooded wit and sense of its own theatricality that makes it unique. As one of the few big international productions to grace HK’s shores, I can think of no better cast to have introduced the pleasures of Fosse to our audience. It delivers that trademark razzle-dazzle in spades. With added jazz hands, of course.
Lunchbox Productions’ Chicago: The Musical is at the Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts until June 20. Tickets, priced $350-895, available from HK Ticketing, 3128 8288 or online.