There’s plenty to admire about Richard Baron’s big, glittering production of the smash-hit Kander and Ebb musical Chicago, which opens this year’s Pitlochry summer season; but sadly, not much to love.
Chicago, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***
First seen on Broadway in 1975, the show is famously based on real-life events in 1920s Chicago, where it seemed that a good-looking dame could literally get away with murder, so long as she knew how to manipulate the media; and this ambitious Pitlochry production features a cast of 15, a ten-piece band, glamorous black-and gold design in classic cabaret style, and two brisk and accomplished leading performances from Niamh Bracken as double murderess Velma Kelly, and Lucie-Mae Sumner as blonde bombshell Roxie Hart, who shoots her lover dead when he tries to leave her.
Even with show-stopping songs like All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle dropping into the action at five-minute intervals, though, it’s hard to see the point of the impressive staging effort involved, when the show so often seems to lack any real drive and spark, or any sense of what it’s there for.
There’s a hint of “me too” feminism around He Had It Coming, sung by five female murderers in the city jail, and the theme of media manipulation has interesting resonances, barely explored.
In the end, though, the show’s endless self-conscious raunchiness, and habit of using long songs to illustrate action that’s already taken place, becomes wearisome; and with actors like Alan Mirren, as Roxie’s long-suffering husband Amos, increasingly reduced to doing their own thing to hold the audience’s interest, the show drifts rather than races to a conclusion, full of gilded song and dance, but finally signifying very little indeed.
In repertoire until 20 October