Chicago review: Cuba Gooding Jr makes his West End debut – and turns on the charm ★★★

The Broadway classic returns to London with a sure-footed cast, but lacks razzle-dazzle

Cuba Gooding Jr as Billy Flynn in (photo: Tristram Kenton)

It’s 43 years since Chicago first wowed Broadway, but Kander and Ebb’s musical satire feels as relevant as ever in our publicity and celebrity-obsessed times.

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With the exception of Cuba Gooding Jr, the producers have swerved the celebrity and stunt-casting (Marti Pellow, Jerry Springer et al) that has often blighted previous tours and revivals.

Instead we have a principal cast made up of actors who have trod these boards before: Josefina Gabrielle as Velma Kelly, Sarah Soetaert as Roxie Hart and Ruthie Henshall as Mama Morton.

Josefina Gabrielle (Velma Kelly) and the ensemble of Chicago (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Josefina Gabrielle (Velma Kelly) and the ensemble of Chicago (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Things start promisingly. Classic opener All That Jazz is right on the money, delivered by Josefina Gabrielle and a cracking ensemble with all the smouldering sexual tension that we expect, as is the bitingly witty Cell Block Tango.

We’re in 1920s Chicago, where murderers Kelly and Hart use their notoriety to earn cash and bid for fame, aided and coerced by corrupt jail warder Morton and dodgy lawyer Billy Flynn (Cuba Gooding Jr).

But by the time we get to the show’s other 11 o’clock number Razzle Dazzle, you begin to feel less than dazzled following some scenes that lack any emotional connection.

Gabrielle and Soetaert play off each other nicely, although they handle the kooky bits better than the menacing bits. And while Henshall is as reliable as ever, she doesn’t come across as ruthless enough for the role.

Cuba Gooding Jr makes up for some fairly ordinary singing (I might have detected a bad throat on the night I went) with bags of charm. And there’s a nice turn from Paul Rider (another Chicago veteran) as Roxie’s naïve and put-upon husband Amos.

The wise decision has been taken to keep the choreography and staging in the style of Bob Fosse’s original 1975 production, and it’s when the dancers – backed by a blistering jazz orchestra led by Ian Townsend – are on stage that this production really oozes sex and class.

Chicago is at the Phoenix Theatre until 23 June

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