Review — Chicago at Phoenix Theatre, West End

Returning for another run after a five-year hiatus, it is Cuba Gooding Jr’s turn as smooth lawyer Billy Flynn that dominated all pre-show talk ahead of his West End bow.

Not the first Hollywood star to make the transition to stage, Gooding’s easy charm and charisma seem the perfect fit for fast-talking lawyer Billy Flynn.

The Oscar winner makes a good fist of his maiden West End role and appears to genuinely buy into the production, although doesn’t quite live up to the high quality of his co-stars.

Gooding’s appearance also raises an obvious question. As welcome as it is to see black actor in a major leading role, it also brings into sharp focus the resolute lack of diversity among the rest of the Chicago cast.

Gooding’s inexperience on stage is more than compensated for by the presence of Chicago veterans Ruthie Henshall, Sarah Soetaert and Gabriella Josefina.

Henshall brings charming viciousness to Mama Morton, while Soetaert’s physical comedy brings Roxie Hart to life alongside Josefina’s scheming Velma Kelly.

Putting the band front and centre is an undoubtedly bold move from producer Barry Weissler but one that certainly pays off in parts.

Fans of the 2002 film will recall the hustle bustle of downtown Chicago, the corruption and crime of Murderess’ row and the bright lights of showbiz.

This production stays loyal to the central themes with its see-through outfits and black-and-red colour scheme, but is undoubtedly stripped back in many senses.

There are many upsides to this revival and above all, provides two-and-a-half hours of classic theatre fun.

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