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A packed house at Eden Court witnessed the first night in Inverness of ultimate American musical Chicago with big, bright stars and unforgettable moments

By Margaret Chrystall

REVIEW: Chicago

Eden Court, Inverness

5 stars

A first for Eden Court and the city arrived on Tuesday as the first night audience in the packed theatre joined 33 million people across the world who have seen the show Chicago – and fallen for its sheer pzazz.

Chicago principals – from left – Faye Brookes as Roxie Hart; Darren Day as Billy Flynn; Sinitta as Matron Mama Morton; Joel Montague as Amos Hart; and Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly.
Chicago principals – from left – Faye Brookes as Roxie Hart; Darren Day as Billy Flynn; Sinitta as Matron Mama Morton; Joel Montague as Amos Hart; and Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly.

And if it doesn't sound too pompous, it felt like a cultural milestone for Inverness.

It was also likely to have been a memorable night for departing Eden Court CEO James Mackenzie-Blackman – who joined the audience to watch the show after a few words of farewell beforehand to some of those he has worked with over four years. He revealed he had had to persuade the producer of Chicago that the show would sell its tickets in Inverness –­ he was right, there are only a few remaining. And he quoted words from the show’s song about change, Nowadays.

“Life everywhere, joy everywhere... That’s Eden Court, it’s been a joy. Enjoy the show!” he finished.

It’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t enjoy this show, it's maybe the ultimate American musical.

Sexy, sassy and showstopping – the musical’s dark comedy tells a knowing story of murderous dames/attention-seeking wannabes, a gossip-hungry crowd and a savvy lawyer who knows just how to push their buttons.

Wide-eyed and innocent, this set of sparkled-up real-life characters are not. But then, neither are we.

And if there’s one thing that this story emphasises – revamped in the 1970s from an original true set of events in the 1920s – it’s how ‘now’ it all still feels.

Are we any less obsessed with celebrity and scandal in 2021 or hasn’t social media just ramped everything up tenfold …

As the musical admits right at the start “Welcome … to a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all the things we hold dear to our hearts”.

And for anyone who might have been mentally ticking them off, yes, we were there well before the interval.

Just as well there is not a wasted second in this show – there’s a lot to get in.

A pared-back stage set creates tiered seating centre stage where the fabulous orchestra, majoring on a full brass section to recreate these 20s ragtime and vaudeville sounds, remains throughout.

Two swinging ladders stretch up at the front of the stage on each side to make vertical opportunities to see lead characters from a literally new dramatic perspective.

Chicago - the company. Picture: TristramKenton
Chicago - the company. Picture: TristramKenton

The cast, when they are not ‘on’, move round to sit at the side, while the front of the stage is dominated by the grade A chorus who can sing and dance their hearts out, all dressed-up in timeless but revealing black outfits majoring on sheer chiffon, black lace and skin-tight, body-con designs that flatter those svelte, super-toned physiques.

As the musical starts, Roxie Hart, a married housewife and nightclub dancer, shoots her about-to-walk-out lover, and persuades her devoted husband Amos to admit to the murder. But jail soon beckons and Roxie meets Matron Mama Morton (Sinitta) who is soon organising top lawyer Billy Flynn (Darren Day) to defend her. Just one problem, he is already defending double murderer and nightclub performer Velma Kelly, and she doesn’t appreciate Billy putting her case on the back-burner. Without giving it all away for anyone who doesn’t know the story, Roxie becomes the fickle public’s latest overnight obsession.

Faye Brookes makes her Roxie a mischievous, ruthless, mesmerising star, while Djalenga Scott is an elegant, highest of high-kicking charismatic performers, but also wins our sympathies as initially overshadowed rival Velma. Darren Day makes a commanding Billy Flynn. with Sinitta, a sisterly listening ear as Mama Morton. And Mary Sunshine hides a secret beneath her deliciously throbbing vocal…

This streamlined show is classy and super-energetic, but the way it has been written, it doesn’t make much attempt to tug at your emotions.

That makes Joel Montague’s ignored, kind-hearted, bit-of-a-sap Amos a welcome change and counterweight to these larger than life, self-obsessed Roxies, Velmas and Billys.

The audience warmed to Joel’s performance quickly, saying “Aww” at all the right moments – one of Joel’s best being, in his big white gloves, his achingly tender vocal in Mr Cellophane.

Yeah, but …

Of course this show is really all about the big, bright stars, unforgettable songs, ostrich-feather fans and breathtaking dance moves to bring an audience alive.

Darren Day as lawyer Billy Flynn surrounded by the company – and ostrich-feather fans! Picture: Tristram Kenton.
Darren Day as lawyer Billy Flynn surrounded by the company – and ostrich-feather fans! Picture: Tristram Kenton.

The show might open on a slightly low-key dark stage in a big gold frame, in the spotlight a bowler hat casually hung over a chair, a little bit Cabaret and a tiny tribute to Chicago’s original director and choreographer Bob Fosse, perhaps.

But two acts later, it doesn’t come much shinier than the ultimate big finish – all the razzle dazzle you could want complete with fancy footwork, canes and big shiny shoes. And all that jazz… MC

Chicago continues at Eden Court until Saturday night. More details and to find out about the few tickets remaining: eden-court.co.uk

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