Coliseum sets the bar high with season opener
Reporter: Paul Genty
Date online: 19 September 2013
CHICAGO, OLDHAM COLISEUM
THERE has been a sense of anticipation about this opening show of the 2013-14 season for some time — not least because the Coliseum has managed to grab the newly-released provincial rights before any other theatre in the country.
Since the late Nineties, the Kander and Ebb classic has suffered the lead weight of a dull touring production that has returned again and again as a vehicle for the latest group of fleeting star names — few of whom seemed suited to it.
Not so here: director Kevin Shaw has raised both his own and the Coliseum’s game by hiring truly top-class production staff – from designer Foxton and lighting designer Jason Taylor to MD John Morton — then has clearly thrown a sizeable chunk of the Coliseum production budget in its direction and hired a terrific cast of 18 - any of the major characters of leading player quality, and all great singers.
In the small-scale comfort of the Coliseum auditorium, the show takes on an intimately close-up new life that suits it very well indeed. Chicago has gone back to being a toddling town.
From the first seconds, Marianne Benedict (murderess Velma) launches into the opening number and pretty much declares the show’s intention to thrill, the ensemble offering an energy that doesn’t let up for the rest of the half — and which only diminishes a little in the less-coherent second.
I could talk about each of the six murderous inmates of the Cook County jail, each a distinctive and entertaining character; or of the wonderfully matter-of-fact corruption of Shirley Darroch’s Mama Morton, the chief wardress.
I could praise the central performances of Benedict, of Helen Power as the scheming Roxie Hart, of Adam Barlow as Roxie’s cuckolded husband Amos, and the striking show from Adam C Booth as sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn, who can whip up a storm of goodwill for murderers, provided they pay him $5,000.
But the truth is this is a team show; even the smallest role is occupied by an actor or musician of quality, and it shows.
The jokes are quickly and carefully nuanced, the big set pieces handled strongly and throughout, the actor-musicians give the show back to the Twenties with down-and-dirty jazz and rag numbers that sound authentically club- rather than stage pit-orientated.
The Coliseum has rarely truly convinced with musicals before — the best for some time having been being the charming “Blonde Bombshells” back in April (which also shared the skills of Benedict). But this one pushes the theatre to a welcome new high. Get tickets while you can.
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