REVIEW: Chicago shocks and rocks in Auckland

  • 05/11/2013

I could tell Chicago was pushing all the right buttons when, 45 minutes into the first act, the woman beside me declared "Oh! I do find it vulgar" – and promptly left the theatre.

The Auckland Theatre Company's reimagining of the Broadway classic, while it may go too far for some, is executed with director Michael Hurst's trademark flair.

The glee on his face last night was evident as he watched his cast gyrating around the stage, which has been set up in the round to heighten the feeling of intimacy with the audience.

Hurst has taken the much-loved story and injected it with that winning trifecta: sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

The main characters have been gussied up, leaving little trace of the glittering 1920s glamour one might expect.

Amanda Billing is a delight to watch as she transforms Roxie Hart from a naïve, rosary-clutching damsel to a publicity-hungry, wannabe star.

She is well-complemented by Lucy Lawless as the jealous Velma Kelly. Both women display a wicked sense of humour and powerful voices.

Lawless in particular is right at home on stage, with a commanding presence befitting her character.

Shane Cortese is appropriately egotistical as defence lawyer Billy Flynn. He delivers a sublime pared-back version of 'Razzle Dazzle', but there were times when some of his dialogue got lost among the melee.

That melee though, is very well-executed. Every costume and character has been well thought-out and though they have been designed to provoke, they are not gratuitous.

Hurst has taken every salacious detail of the Chicago story, exaggerated it and thrown it back in our faces.

Roxie's trial is particularly masterful, using clever symbolism to truncate the scene in an irreverent yet elegant way.

But it is not all about fierce, orgiastic choreography and relentless boundary-pushing. Andrew Grainger steals the show as the bumbling Amos Hart – his tender rendition of 'Mister Cellophane' drew sympathetic cries of "We notice you!" from the crowd.

A strong, fully invested chorus rounds out the cast, using the 360 degree stage to great effect throughout.

This is such a well-known and often-told story that this is just the overhaul it needed. Yes, some of the songs have been cut but this is to its benefit.

Chicago may throw you way off balance – but there's no fear about a lack of talents.

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