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Review of Chicago at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

It is wrong I know, but I always get a thrill of excitement when I hear that we have an understudy on. With the exception of trips to London, I rarely attend a theatre production with the sole intent of seeing a star. Indeed for the most part if that it a "star" of shows like Britain's Got Talent or The X-Factor, I am sadly rarely impressed. Yes that may feel like a snobby comment, however I much prefer my theatre performers to have more theatre credits than television appearances and certainly not just a list of talent shows they have appeared on.

However I have seriously digressed and the cause of this was the announcement at the start of my viewing of the touring production of Chicago that Lindsey Tierney would be playing the role of Roxie Hart instead of Emmerdale star and winner of ITV's Dancing On Ice, Hayley Tamaddon. Obviously I cannot comment on Tamaddon, but as understudy, Lindsey Tierney was one of the highlights of the show. Confident with a strong stage presence and a wonderfully clear and expressive voice. Clearly for me the star of the show despite being the understudy.

The other performers were quite a mix, with Sophie Carmen-Jones a quite wonderful Velma Kelly, portraying a devilishly minxy attitude and a confident, quality performance of the songs. Her Hot Honey Rag with Tierney is one of the show highlights. Less successful for me was Sam Bailey's Matron 'Mama' Morton, while she has an incredibly strong singing voice, able to insert huge power into the numbers including When You're Good To Mama, she unfortunately provides little character into the role. Resulting in a feeling that you are just watching a stroll on, deliver the number and leave.

I also have serious reservations about John Partridge's Billy Flynn. For much of his first half appearances, his performance seems much more Partridge than Flynn, egging the role up and playing to the audience more than the his role. It is only when he performs the definitely dazzling Razzle Dazzle in the second half, that I felt we were finally getting out moneys worth from the star. During this he showed everything of the showman that either he or the choreography didn't allow in the first half.

Other excellent moments from the show include Dann Kharsa putting a super amount of character into his role of The Jury. Flicking with a subtle costume charge or facial change into the various members. Another highlight in the interaction from the musical director Ben Atkinson, often involved in exchanges with the cast and an impressively wacky persona, helping bring life into the often ignored, but key role. I did also enjoy Neil Ditt as Amos Hart, who performs what was one of my favourite parts of the show with his Mister Cellophane.

The choreography from Ann Reinking feels at times slightly less impressive than you feel you deserve from a big show like Chicago. This is a talented ensemble we have here, but much of the time it all feels rather tiny in its ambition. Much of this though is from the frankly weird design decisions. The band area, a hulking monstrosity of a beast, takes up what appears to be nearly seventy percent of the stage, leaving a relatively shallow area for the cast to perform on. It is immediately evident from the opening number All That Jazz, where the cast are either bumping into one another or visibly stalling their movement to allow the others to move. There is also the rather weird side channels where the non performing cast sit on chairs. This would be fine, except that when other cast members walk through there, you actually see the other performers sometimes having to move their feet to let them pass. It all becomes incredibly strange, and is totally unnecessary.

So overall a real mixed bag, enjoyable but with so many annoying elements that jar from that enjoyment. A few really silly decisions have taken this from what could have been a really excellent show, to as it stands, one that is nothing more than a moderately entertaining diversion.

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Performance reviewed: Monday 23rd May, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Chicago was on at the Royal & Derngate between Monday 23rd and Saturday 28th May, 2016 and continues its tour throughout 2016. Details can be found at http://chicagothemusical.com/uktour.php

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk

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