So Bank Holiday Monday on 28th May was very enjoyable. My friend Keely and I went to see Chicago: The Musical playing in The Phoenix Theatre, London. I won the tickets in our New Year’s staff party (I had never won anything in my life up until that day, so this was a very proud moment for me!) and when I was given the tickets, I was told that I could book anything except Hamilton and Harry Potter & The Cursed Child. I know, boo right? It’s not like Harry Potter was my first choice or anything. But you know, free shit is free shit so I was not about to complain.
After doing my research, I was on the verge of selecting Dreamgirls as the lucky winner, when I discovered that Chicago would be coming to London in March, and that Cuba Gooding Jr. would be paying Billy Flynn. Well, suddenly it was a no-brainer! I had to see Cuba Gooding Jr. perform live. I was completely unaware of what his skills as a singer were, but this was not about to be the sole reason not to attend. I mean, Richard Gere isn’t exactly John Legend himself but, as we all know, he killed it in the movie.
On the day, I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I had been so focused on my excitement at seeing Cuba Gooding Jr. perform live, that I had forgotten how much I loved the way the characters were played by the actors in the original movie. To be honest, I completely underestimated how brilliant Catherine Zeta-Jones was as Velma Kelly. From the very beginning of the show, whilst she was performing All That Jazz, I had a feeling that Josefina Gabrielle would not do the role justice quite like the lovely Mrs. Zeta-Jones. I know that the entire cast in the movie did set the bar very high, but I just didn’t get the essence of the “Miss Velma Kelly” that you’re supposed to feel from the moment she walks into the room. I won’t go as far as to say that Josefina did a bad job, but I just didn’t love it.
Now Sarah Soetaert, who played the main character Roxie Hart, did fantastically in my opinion. When performing in something well-known, actors tend to study the original too much and just mimic exactly what we’ve seen before, rather than make it their own. Ms. Soetaert did not do any such thing. She still brought the playfulness and ditziness to the character, but she also compiled this with the perfect touch of comedy as well. I don’t actually remember the character being quite that funny when it was played by Renee Zellwegger, as brilliant as this was. So I was very impressed with what Sarah Soetaert brought to the role.
Another who impressed me was Paul Rider, who played Amos in the musical, Roxie Hart’s husband. Now for anyone who has seen the movie, or has been lucky enough to see Chicago on Broadway, I’m sure you remember that Amos is essentially Mr. Invisible. He’s described as not very attractive, a little simple and according to Roxie, not very good in bed. I think even referring to him as “a little simple” is me being kind-hearted personally. Because if we’re going to be honest, any man who would spend his life savings on his woman who is in jail for killing the man she cheated on you with, is nothing short of a mug in my opinion. I get it, love is blind or whatever. But he is still a mug. However I could not fault the actor’s performance.
Ruthie Henshall played the fabulous Mama Morton. Once again, I didn’t quite consider just how much of a mark Queen Latifah left with her portrayal of the matron. Ruthie Henshall certainly had some big shoes to fill. I wasn’t a huge fan of her characterization at first, however she did grow on me. I liked the fact that she seemed to have all the edge of Big Mama, but was still able to bring her own style of acting to the character. She didn’t quite resonate the confidence and power that I would expect from anyone who took on the role, but when she walked onto the stage, you knew it was Big Mama. She wasn’t actually big in size at all. But unexpectedly, this didn’t really matter to me. The only negative point I had was that she and Velma Kelly didn’t seem to have the relationship that they should have had before Roxie arrived. When it came to the climactic part of the performance, where Roxie has essentially replaced Velma as the big dog, I didn’t feel as much of an effect because I didn’t feel as if her and Mama had much of a bond in the first place. But overall, I did like Ruthie Henshall’s portrayal.
And finally, the wonderful Mr. Cuba Gooding Jr. Yes, I did indeed save the best for last! As excited as I was to see him perform live in the weeks leading up to the show, all I could think of once we were sat in our seats on the night was “please don’t mess it up Cuba, please. I love you so much, please don’t make me hate you!” And he did not disappoint. For an actor who is used to performing in front of the camera as opposed to on stage, I thought Cuba Gooding Jr. did an amazing job. I truly believe that Richard Gere would have been proud. Or slightly jealous perhaps. But either way, I loved it. Not only was he every bit as witty, funny, cheeky and daring as Billy Flynn should have been, but he was practically dripping with the suave and sophistication that we are used to seeing from Mr Gooding Jr. Only it was even better, because there wasn’t a sheet of glass separating me from him! Well, there will still several people, chairs and the stage, but that’s beside the point. I am genuinely struggling to find a negative element of his performance throughout the entire show.
So overall, it may not have been Harry Potter & The Cursed Child but it was amazing and my friend and I both thoroughly enjoyed it. I vote for a brand new film adaptation of Chicago with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Billy Flynn. Encore! Encore!