Kander and Ebb’s Chicago is one of those musicals that has hit tune after hit tune, which is a good start to producing an audience pleaser. Most of the time, Chicago hits the heights and packed audiences have been proving the popularity of this latest production at the State Theatre.
The undoubted star is jazz and musical theatre singer Alinta Chidzey as the sassy Velma Kelly. It’s a role she was born to play, and such is her charisma I could easily see her performing this role or any other on the West End or Broadway. As her opposite number Roxie Hart, Natalie Bassingthwaighte brings an attractive sweetness edged with pure slate, easily revealing the manipulative nature of Roxie covered by the baby doll innocence, which doesn’t fool anyone other than her poor dim husband Amos for a minute. Bassingthwaighte and Chidzey, as the celebrity murderesses are a good double act.
The casting of former Australian Idol star Casey Donovan as Matron Mama Morton is inspired. Casey has a natural aptitude for the stage and certainly has the pipes to make the most of the music, and her “When You’re Good to Mama” is a showstopper. I especially admired her timing and panache – she was a most believable Mama.
The other Donovan (no relation) in the cast is Australian-born former West End star Jason Donovan, well known to local fans of Neighbours as Scott Robinson, Charlene’s perfect match – Kylie Minogue to those who don’t follow Neighbours but who enjoy a little ancient television history! Jason certainly shows his acting chops as ambitious lawyer Billy Flynn, for whom the prison inmates are purely stepping-stones to fortune and infamy. His timing is terrific and he works well with the ladies, although the description actor-singer is the right one, as his vocals are nowhere near as good as his acting ability. But as the show focuses on the girls’ singing and dancing so much, it doesn’t affect the audience’s enjoyment of the show.
Rodney Dobson as Amos Hart plays this sweet but dim husband, who never takes a trick, to perfection, and his rendition of ‘Cellophane Man’ was an audience favourite.
A standout for me was J. Furtado in the cross dressing role of reporter Mary Sunshine. While it is always traditional to have this role played by a male, Furtado’s singing is simply brilliant, with a soaring mezzo-soprano sound. It was no surprise to read that he is a choral specialist and is obviously a fine musician as well as a gifted music theatre performer.
Choreography is splendid, and the lighting design by Ken Billington really makes the show; the orchestra is on the stage with the performers and there are no set changes, but the lighting changes create the magic.
I also liked the fact that the band is part of the show and that musical director Daniel Edmonds even has a cameo role in the action. His band of 12 is a tight musical ensemble, and the whole show has been well directed by Karen Johnson Mortimer.
If this is a musical you love, you will thoroughly enjoy this production.
Julie Houghton reviewed the matinee performance of “Chicago”, presented by John Frost and Suzanne Jones at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre on December 26, 2019.
Photo : Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Casey Donovan and Alinta Chidzey. Photo credit Peter Brew Bevan.