Chicago cast dazzle Woking audience

WOKING has been wrapped in greed, corruption, murder, exploitation and treachery this week, writes Mark Miseldine.

No, not the build-up to today’s local elections (do remember to go out and vote, everyone), but the razzle-dazzle sparkle of Chicago at the New Victoria Theatre.

Faye Brookes as Roxie Hart

It’s the tale of chorus girl Roxie Hart, in prison for murdering her lover Fred. In 1920s Chicago, murder is practically a form of entertainment, wild stories selling thousands of newspapers. Roxie realises that to set herself apart from the other felons on ‘murderess row’ she’ll need her own redemption tale to garner publicity, plus a very slick lawyer to sell it to a jury. She doesn’t just want to be free, it’s the opportunity to become a star.

From the outset, the musical wears its sexiness on its sleeve – or, in this case, its sheer stockings and sleeveless mesh tops – and its themes of media manipulation, as well as the lure of celebrity, still chime readily enough with today’s news stories.

It’s a seductive and engaging production. The minimalist set puts the orchestra on stage, like they’re a house band looking down on the show unfolding and giving proceedings a smoky jazz club feel – as well as allowing the musical director to get in on the action from time to time. The only set dressing is wooden chairs, brought on and off as required. Otherwise, a hard-working lighting rig does everything else in terms of mood; tightly focused spotlights to illuminate key moments, broad arcs of subdued colour, stylised patterns.

It keeps attention focused on the cast, and there’s so much to enjoy. Each member of the dance company is mesmerising – no action wasted, no move ever just thrown away. The sharp and sexy Bob Fosse choreography is virtually another character in its own right, helping drive the action.

As Roxie Hart, Faye Brookes is a revelation. Best known for playing Kate Connor in Coronation Street, it’s a long way from Weatherfield’s cobbles to Chicago’s mean streets, but she makes that journey in style.

Velma (Djalenga Scott) and company give you All That Jazz

As well as her singing and dancing, it’s the personality of Roxie she projects so well that captivates the audience. A constant whirl of emotions, switching from ditzy to devious, vulnerable to seductive, whatever Roxie thinks will serve her best to stay one step ahead of the game, requires Faye to work hard to hit the right tone and pitch, plus demonstrate pin-sharp comedic timing. She really sells it, every nod, wink and sly grin, and the Woking audience loved it.

When you have a musical full of show-stopping songs – All That Jazz, When You’re Good to Mama, Razzle Dazzle, just for starters – you want performers who know how to carry a tune. This production is blessed with the vocal talents of Sheila Ferguson and Russel Watson.

Sheila, lead singer of chart-toppers The Three Degrees, plays Mama Morton, matron of Cook County jail. Fixing inmates with favours in return for bribes, she brings a grifting, business-like edge.

Russell, who has been called one of the world’s greatest classical singers, certainly provides slick lawyer Billy Flynn with a honeyed tongue. He’s no hoofer, happy to stand amid the dancing rather than be part of it while he’s holding the stage. But that helps emphasise his character, the ring master directing the media circus around him, spinning and manipulating events.

As Velma Kelly, Roxie’s glamorous cellmate rival for the limelight and celebrity-hungry front pages, Djalenga Scott is a singing and dancing powerhouse with real stage presence.

Chicago’s razzle-dazzle decadence is in town until Saturday 7 May – there’s a few tickets left, visit

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