All That Jazz

By Richard Barber

The score is so good, the lyrics so witty, it’s impossible not to warm to the action the moment Velma and company swing into All that Jazz. But the problem, if that is the word, with a show so well known is that expectations are understandably, perhaps unfeasibly, high.

And while this latest incarnation of Chicago – music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse – high-kicks its way across two hugely enjoyable hours, it is, in the end, a four-star production of a five-star musical.

Hard to pinpoint why, but too often there’s an absence of hard-boiled slickness that gave earlier productions their dangerous edge. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with the lithe and lissom Josefina Gabrielle, who turns in the performance of the evening as flinty-hearted Velma. As her rival on death Row, Sarah Soetaert as Roxie Hart is all baby-blonde cutesiness but not perhaps as foxy as her eponymous solo number suggests. the two women spark well off each other, though, with the help of a well-drilled chorus. 

the imported star of the show is American actor Cuba Gooding Jr, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film Jerry Maguire opposite Tom Cruise. Suffice to say that his performance as ruthless lawyer Billy Flynn is a work in progress. It sounded like he was battling a heavy head cold, but he’ll get over that. What I missed was the sinuous sliminess other actors have brought to this role; Cuba seemed much keener on endearing himself to the other cast members as well as to the audience. snakes in the grass aren’t habitually meant to grin from ear to ear.

Ruthie Henshall, no stranger to productions of Chicago, is reliably excellent as head jailer mama Morton, her duet with Velma on Class one of the evening’s highlights. My only cavil would be that she’s rather too glamorous for a role normally undertaken by someone who makes Rosa Klebb look fluffy and feminine.

A shoutout, too, for Paul Rider, who quickly wheedles his way into our affections as the ineffectual, all but invisible ‘mister Cellophane’, Roxie’s perpetually traduced husband. And Ad Richardson has a lot
of fun with journalist mary sunshine, right up to the second- half ‘reveal’.

But look, the show’s the thing and Kander and Ebb have created something almost bombproof with that dazzling succession of songs that come up mint fresh each time. Cell Block Tango, When You’re Good to mama, Razzle dazzle – the list goes on. Little wonder Chicago refuses to lie down and, well, die.

Chicago is at the Phoenix Theatre, London WC2 until June 23: 0844-871 7629, www.