Review by Mark Newman

Loreto’s singers, dancers and musicians scaled magnificent new heights with their splendid presentation of the internationally acclaimed musical Chicago. With music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse inspired choreography, Chicago is a tale about greed, murder and injustice, mostly set in the infamous Cook County jail, one time ‘residence’ of famous gangsters and other notorious criminals. The narrative revolves around the lives of two women: Velma Kelly, once a celebrated singer, finds herself behind bars after killing her adulterous sister and husband. Roxie Hart, married to worthy but dull Amos, and longing for glamour and stardom, shoots a spurned lover and also finds herself a ‘guest’ of the Cook County establishment. The women have to play the system and somehow get the best lawyer in town, Billy Flynn, to defend them. Perhaps not the most uplifting of themes but…this is Broadway, and Hollywood, and soon we have music and dancing, humour and energy: Chicago the musical. 

Director/Producer Danny Price, assisted by rehearsal director Jade McGovern, opted for a minimalist set on two levels, leaving the cast to create the atmosphere of 1920s Chicago – and create an atmosphere they certainly did! The four principals carried off their roles in superb style. Jodie Hitchen (pictured left) was a devious but charming dark haired Velma, afraid of losing her position to Roxie but determined to fight back. She sang and danced with style and conviction, and was utterly convincing in the role. Florence Kindell (pictured right), as Roxie Hart, also had the task of acting, singing and dancing, often all at the same time, a feat she accomplished with great aplomb. As devious as Velma, sometimes heartless, sometimes loving: always scheming, her performance was a triumph. Darnell Powell (pictured below, left) impressed in his role as smooth talking, big time lawyer Billy Flynn, displaying just the right amount of cynicism in his efforts to defend the two girls and, more importantly, earn a quick buck or two. Darnell’s excellent singing voice was much in evidence and his personality shone through his performance. Harry Horgan had the audience on his side as the downtrodden, gullible Amos Hart, his judgement forever clouded by his love for the undeserving Roxie. 

The relatively small cast of fifteen worked as a true ensemble (pictured below) and this was a distinguishing feature of the whole production; it bounced along at a terrific pace, with zest and energy and an infectious enthusiasm. Pippa Hudson’s choreography, with input from Joanne Farnell, Kathy Brooke, Jade McGovern and Rachel Jackson, was slick, captivating and professional, none more so than in the spectacular Cell Block Tango, a real highlight of the show. 

The whole production was driven by a magnificent house band, assembled by Head of Music and keyboard player David Lloyd-Mostyn, featuring Conal Horan and Bob Koropisz on trumpets, Lana Cook, Alison Benson and Jonathan Guy on reeds, Fionnuala Bradbury on violin, Caitlin Schaffer on banjo and mandolin, bass player Luke Darbyshire, trombonist Oliver Marshall and drummer Ruben Butterfield McPherson. The band not only accompanied all the song and dance numbers but provided incidental music and sound effects as well, all with the utmost precision. Tony Fennell and Ian Jones ensured that the sense of overall professionalism extended to the technical areas of sound and lighting, enabling the cast to focus on their routines with confidence.  

In his closing remarks, after the last performance, Director Danny Price was keen to highlight the power of the collective, with the superb ensemble work on stage and a student led backstage team. As an audience member, it was hard not to be caught up in the exuberant atmosphere of this splendid production and we departed into a rainy Manchester night singing numbers from the show – the ultimate compliment! 

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