>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 30 mar 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


The hammer comes down. Applause erupts from among the aisles. Call the press! Sound it forth! The verdict is clear: CHICAGO THE MUSICAL has acquitted itself far beyond expectations.

The story is quite simple really. Roxie Hart pops her playmate for walking out on her and winds up in a rat-hole holding block full of accused female man-killers. Even the media-sensation slayer of men Velma Kemp is there - squeal! The histories of these fatal femmes are all different, but they agree on one basic thing: he had it coming. In comes Billy Flynn, the defence lawyer whose beguiling tongue offers freedom to the feminine species all for love and at the low cost of five grand. Love him or hate him, you better do as he says because he does score acquittals.

Arranged in episodic scenes, CHICAGO THE MUSICAL plays up the vaudeville form of entertainment, trivial themes and songs. The musical's brilliance obtains in this very send-up of low-brow theatre. Right at the beginning, a giggly blond announces with mock gravity that coming our way "murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery" punctuated with a "twee" back kick. At other times, sleazy brass music resonates with self-subverting, absurdly tautological lyrics such as "a celebrity is someone everyone knows". Otherwise, the light tickling of ivories accompanies pre-school anthems such as "look for the good in everyone". Everywhere in the musical are entrances and exits announced and performed to the audience, with this show time effect deflating the weighty import of the said themes. Through theatrical devices, the musical plays a peek-a-boo with the audience, at times effecting the full artifice of theatre while at others seeming to transgress it. Script, lyric and music connive in a wonderful parody of commercial theatre to great effect.

>>'At times, it seemed as if the whole show was a circus, especially when the news-starved media differentiates into freaks, dolphins and pooches all under the savvy baton of Billy Flynn'

Slick, tight and all the while swaying sensuously, the musical is every stitch, buckle and garter held together by its luminous cast. All my adulation goes to the snap execution of those way-cool everybody slide, groove and slither moves. Even more impressive are all the free improvisations: bodies taut with practice give in to every narcissistic "hey look at me!" flip, glide and somersault. Nevertheless, do look out for the lone performer who morphs into different jury members with chameleon ease. He owns that scene.

At times, it seemed as if the whole show was a circus, especially when the news-starved media differentiates into freaks, dolphins and pooches all under the savvy baton of Billy Flynn. Simon Burke playing the lawyer par excellence sang with resounding clarity, and if his integrity could be improved, would not make a bad mate for some clueless dame. But the night truly belonged to the two leading ladies, who slugged out an equaliser.

Chelsea Gibb who bimbotically demurred her way into everyone's good books as Roxie Hart was phenomenally funny. All of Roxie's years of playing house with boring mechanic hubby collapses into an elicit liaison prematurely shortened by murder. Dreams of stardom soon bloom from within the jail cell, however. It was in one of Roxie's trips to the land of "if only" when Gibb endeared herself as the ditz who maybe could. A shy giggle here, a mawkish shrug there, she half near stole the entire show.

That was until Sharon Millerchip re-entered the stage with all her buffoonery and brought the house down. Here's why she's the poster girl. Not for all the smouldering looks nor the carefully turned lash, no. It was how Millerchip carried the impossible combination of stunning looker, clown and gymnast with gleeful aplomb. Tough cookie one scene, Egyptian walking, cartwheel spinning busker next, Millerchip knocked the wind out of Kallang and jolted a resounding roar of thigh-slapping approval from the crowd. A few rows in front of me, I could almost hear Zoe Tay wonder out loud, "They never taught me that in New York!"

The real gem in CHICAGO THE MUSICAL? The unexpected fun wrapped up under all that attitude and noir sensibility. Of course, the spectacular shower of red confetti at the end of the show was the cream topping a strong black brew.

Fashion forecast for the next month or so? Black. A must have for the season? Best seats for CHICAGO. Don't be caught doing anything else!