Theatre Review: Chicago is a seductive jailhouse romp with star-studded glam

Full of murder, greed and that oh so seductive razzle dazzle, Broadway’s longest-running musical has found its way back to Australia for a limited season. Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two strong individuals with big aspirations who find themselves locked up and on trial for murder. When they learn of renowned criminal lawyer Billy Flynn, they go toe to toe in competition for his services, hoping they’ll become stars.

There’s a reason Chicago continues to dazzle audiences with every showing, with many returning to the theatre to catch a glimpse – it’s just so damn good. The narrative is as strong and entertaining as ever, capturing themes of exploitation, adultery and treachery in a way that’s fun and sexy. With a story as timeless as this, there’s no reason for any changes, and there’s none identifiable here – it’s a faithful production that sticks the landing with its snappy pace and high-quality musical numbers. It’s a smooth-flowing story that’s easy to follow and offers great bouts of drama and comedy for audiences to latch onto.

The charm of the production lies in the comedic edge it weaves throughout its musical numbers, dialogue and choreography, rewarding those who pay the most attention with sneaky comedic quips. For example, the act of having one of the ensemble shuffle his way through the jury chairs, impersonating each member with subtle costume and behavioural changes, is undeniably clever. It’s a moment that never fails to garner big laughs, especially as more of the audience gradually catches on the the visual gag at play. There’s plenty of that strewn throughout, with all of the main cast contributing in ways specific to their characters’ respective quirks and personality.

By far the standout performer is none other than theatre legend Anthony Warlow, who lights up the stage with a stellar performance as Billy Flynn. His suave stage presence is immaculate, stealing the spotlight every time his perfectly tailored suit struts out from backstage. His signature musical numbers in All I Care About is Love and Razzle Dazzle are enhanced by the aura of coolness that follows him around.  Giving him a run for his money is Zoë Ventoura as Velma Kelly, putting in a strong and fierce performance to bring this gem of a character to life. Her vocal talents are on show, as is her acting prowess, carrying her scenes with a sexy memorable presence.

Playing opposite Ventoura is Lucy Maunder as the fiery Roxie Hart. While she has great vocal range and nails her musical numbers, I don’t quite think she had the moxie for Roxy. There’s a little extra punch missing from her performance that would’ve had her matching the presence of Ventoura and Warlow, but it unfortunately wasn’t there. Peter Rowsthorn rounds out the memorable roles with an endearing performance as Amos Hart. If ever there was an example of spot-on casting, it’s this. He plays the cluelessly loving husband to perfection, culminating in a show-stopping Mister Cellophane rendition that had the audience applauding and laughing in unison.

One thing Chicago is renowned for is its spectacular soundtrack, packed with iconic musical numbers all synonymous with the production. Whether it’s We Both Reached for the Gun or the Cell Block Tango, there’s always a signature hit on the horizon once the last one passes. The choreography partnered with each number is more subdued, but entertaining nonetheless. There’s no enormous, flashy sequences, but plenty of opportunities for the ensemble to flex their dancing skills with impressive results.

The music is performed exceptionally well by the talented orchestra, who remain front and centre on the stage for the entire production. It’s a brilliant creative decision that puts the focus on the music, especially when members of the orchestra are hilariously interacted with as part of the show. I couldn’t help but notice the remaining space at the front of Her Majesty’s Theatre stage may have been a little tight for some of the choreography, but they mostly make it work without it looking awkward.

When it comes to classic musical theatre that always delivers, there’s no overlooking Chicago. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a Chicago regular, there’s plenty of fun to be had. This production brings the thrills, drama and laughs, all of which had the audience locked in to the narrative and up on their feet at the show’s conclusion. Anthony Warlow is the production’s brightest star, commanding all attention when he graces the stage with his musical prowess. For a stellar night full of excitement, glimmer and all that jazz, Chicago is the place to be.


Chicago is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne through to May 26th, 2024. It then slides on over to Sydney from June 9th and Adelaide from August 4th. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.

Reviewer attended on Tuesday March 26th, 2024

Photo credit: Jeff Busby