Review: ‘Chicago’ musical 'razzle-dazzles' audience at Dubai Opera on opening night

Songs such as 'All That Jazz' and 'Cell Block Tango' were executed to perfection, while a glittering wardrobe and a band did a good job recreating the roaring '20s

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If you’re not already familiar with the smash-hit musical Chicago, it’s about “murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery”. You know, “all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts”, or so goes the description.

What it really is is a feast for the eyes and ears; a celebration of talent told through the eyes of murderous women.

On Wednesday, the longest-running American musical in Broadway's history opened at Dubai Opera to a sold-out audience.

Scroll through the photo gallery above to see some scenes from the show.

The slick, sassy musical is based on a real-life story from the 1920s, when the public obsessed over grisly murders committed by women.

When aspiring entertainer Roxie Hart shoots her lover after a spat, she is charmed by the attention she receives from the media as they keep tabs on her case. To keep herself in the spotlight – and off death row – Roxie employs the talents of charismatic and unscrupulous lawyer William “Billy” Flynn. What follows is a whirlwind of drama, dark humour and, of course, music, as she battles for the media’s fickle attention with rival Velma Kelly and others who dare to steal the cameras' glare.

Faye Brookes shines as the lead Roxie Hart in the musical 'Chicago' at Dubai Opera. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The production starts off with a bang, with two incredibly strong performances in the form of All That Jazz – one of its most famous numbers – and Cell Block Tango, which features the inmates of Cook County Jail proclaiming their innocence (“he ran into my knife 10 times”).

Props are kept to a minimum – the odd chair, ladders on the side – as the spotlight is very much on the performers, who are impeccable, with Faye Brookes shining as the wide-eyed yet fiery Roxie, and Djalenga Scott as haughty Velma.

A surprising highlight comes from Joel Montague who plays Roxie’s cuckold husband who initially agrees to take the fall for her crime. Joel stands out in his trademark frumpy attire and his rendition of Mister Cellophane draws many a sympathetic “aw” from the audience.

West End actor Darren Day delivers a charismatic performance as the lawyer, although the talents of pop singer Sinitta, who stars as Mama Morton, seem underutilised.

The costumes deserve a mention. Sleek and sensual, with plenty of black, glitter and sheer material, they do a great job in recreating the glamour and intrigue of the roaring '20s.

Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly performs 'All That Jazz' in 'Chicago', on stage at Dubai Opera. Chris Whiteoak / The National

A musical is only as strong as its orchestra, however, and the band deliver. The stage has been set up to keep the musicians in full display at all times, although the clever lighting ensures they blend into the background as they would in a '20s-era jazz club.

At the beginning of act two, there's a moment where only the band perform. No dancers, actors or costumes, just the musicians doing what they do best – and looking as though they’re having a blast while they’re at it – invoking loud cheers from the enraptured audience.

Chicago first premiered in New York in 1975 and was immortalised on the big screen in 2002, as Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing Roxie and Velma, starred in a movie that won six Academy Awards in 2003.

Watching it today, it’s clear that the musical has withstood the test of time. The tempo is light, the humour dark and it’s so deliciously entertaining. But more than that, its overarching themes – the fickle nature of fame, the allure of publicity (good or bad) and the desire to be seen – are even more relevant in our age of social media and influencers.

Chicago is at Dubai Opera until Saturday, January 15; tickets from Dh345 are available at dubaiopera.com/events

Updated: January 06, 2022, 10:42 AM
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