Preposterous but stunning! And not even that preposterous. The story is based on real events that took place in the 1920s in Chicago when a whole series of young women killed their husbands or boyfriends but were acquitted by sympathetic juries. The female chorus line in the musical version of these events, which opened on Broadway in 1975, consists of female prisoners, convicted or awaiting trial for murder. But that is where the show parts company with history. It is really a celebration of the Jazz Age – the music, the dances, the sexual liberation. The prisoners are not wearing drab prison uniforms. They are not wearing very much of anything, and what there is might well serve, as Dr. Johnson puts it, to excite one’s amorous propensities.
The show kicks off with an absolute knock-out – an extended version of the song All That Jazz. A little “big band” is seated on tiers at the back of the stage, but they are not in the background. They clearly believe that “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got swing”, and boy, do they power this number along! In front of them, the glamorous murderesses and the male dancers perform intricate manoeuvres with swagger and panache, but no one is swaggering more flexibly and sexily than Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly, currently the most celebrated of the killer ladies. She is at the centre of a choreographic display of the utmost intricacy, in the style of Bob Fosse, who pioneered the show in America. The whole ensemble is absolutely terrific, and they manage to fit in backing vocals too.
Velma has a rival for the top spot in Roxie Hart, played with equal panache and physicality by Faye Brookes. When she shoots her lover, her faithful husband tries to get her off the hook, but she treats him with disdain. As Amos Hart, Joel Montague wins the sympathy of the audience when he calls himself ‘Mr. Cellophane’, because he attracts so little notice that people seem to see right through him. Dull but decent, he is the one good guy among a bevvy of glamorous baddies.
I won’t attempt to outline the plot. It doesn’t really matter that much, because the dancers, the singers, and the musicians all perform to such a standard that one just has to revel in the sights and sounds that they produce. And they are jaw-droppingly sexy. My jaw certainly dropped!
- Music by John Kander
- Lyrics by Fred Ebb
- Directed by Walter Bobbie
- Choreographed by Ann Reinking
- Starring Faye Brookes and Djalenga Scott
- New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: Saturday 21st May 2022
- Running time: 2½ hours, including Interval