17 years ago, I fell in love with Chicago via the silver screen when Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones were dazzling the world with their portrayals of characters Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. 6 years after that, I witnessed the 2008 Australian production of Chicago starring the legendary Caroline O’Connor. Now in 2019, Melbourne has a new production of Chicago residing at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre, starring Alinta Chidzey, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Casey Donovan and Jason Donovan. And even though I have seen several versions of Chicago, I must say, this may be the best one yet.
We all know the story of Chicago, a musical set in the 1920s which circles around femme fatales in the women’s cell block of the Cook County jail. We know that both Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are no angels, both committing murders, being locked up and awaiting their sentences whilst dreaming of vaudeville fame and desiring to escape into the world of jazz. Even though all of this is familiar, and the 1976 musical has visited Australia in various versions before, the 2019/2020 production of Chicago is a must-see for the talent alone.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte does an incredible job in her role as Roxie Hart, the typical blonde bombshell who appears ditzy and naïve, but is essentially the ultimate dangerous woman. Using her husband as a financial safety net and cheating on him with a man who she believes can make her famous, it’s incredible that the character, Roxie Hart is still showcased as a somewhat underdog, and we as the audience adore her, due to her bewitching charms which rival Velma Kelly is completely aware of and loathes throughout the show.
Jason Donovan as criminal lawyer Billy Flynn is superb. While his voice isn’t the strongest, he makes up for it with his commanding stage presence and flawless stagecraft. Casey Donovan is perfectly cast as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton and is dynamite in her solo number, “When You’re Good to Mama”. Clearly the strongest vocalist of the production, Casey Donovan the whole-time oozes with a sense of confidence during her number that will make you envious and want to follow in her footsteps.
“Mr Cellophane” is one of my favourite songs from Chicago and Rodney Dobson’s portrayal of neglected husband Amos Hart and his evident bleeding heart and forgiving persona is both heartbreaking and endearing. You want to give Amos a hug, but you also want him to snap out of his ‘door mat’ phase and stand up for himself.
Alinta Chidzey, who plays the iconic Velma Kelly, is made for the role. Not only does she have her own jazz band when not playing the merry murderess on stage, but Chidzey is an incredible dancer, and portrays Velma Kelly with a fierce, feisty, sassy, smugness, yet is still somehow infectiously likable. When performing “All That Jazz”, you can’t help but be mesmerised by the choreography, Chidzey’s insanely impressive vocals and the dancers perfectly framing her, as if they’re an extension of her character and her character’s aesthetic. Not only did Chidzey blow me away with her stage presence, but she was by far the standout of the production.
Last but not least, J. Furtado as reporter Mary Sunshine was a delightful surprise with his ever impressive falsetto, which left me completely wide-eyed and gobsmacked.
As stated, the talent alone should make you want to see this incredible production. If not just for the talent, there’s also the sensational band that are at times are ‘part of the show’, the extremely catchy and well written tunes, and above all else, the sensational story inspired by two real female criminals from the 1920s who were both acquitted. This enticing satire musical about corruption in criminal justice and ‘celebrity criminals’ long before ‘influencers’ were a thing, still seems as relevant as ever.
This 2019 Australian production of Chicago is one of the best musical productions I have ever witnessed, with a cast that deserves all the applause, this show is an absolute must-see. Make sure you grab your ticket before it leaves Melbourne in February 2020. I know that I will be going again. I’m hooked.
For more information on the musical and ticketing, visit: chicagothemusical.com.au
Photography by Grant Alexander.