Murder, Adultery, Corruption & All That Jazz

By Gill Canning

Zoë Ventoura and Lucy Maunder in CHICAGO (c) Jeff Busby
Zoë Ventoura and Lucy Maunder in CHICAGO (c) Jeff Busby
A galaxy of Australian talent shines on stage in Chicago.

In 1920s Chicago, the punishment for murder was often death by hanging. However, if the defendant happened to be a pretty young woman accused of murdering a man, she was liable to be turned into a kind of celebrity by the newspapers of the time and more often than not, walked free. 

The play Chicago, written in 1926 by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a female journalist who’d covered such trials, dealt with this legal phenomenon. In 1975, Watkins’ play was turned into the musical that has, today, become the longest-running show currently on Broadway.

Anthony Warlow and female ensemble in CHICAGO. Photo: Jeff Busby

In the current Australian production, Roxie Hart (Lucy Maunder) and Velma Kelly (Zoë Ventoura) are both in jail accused of separate ‘crimes of passion’ when celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Anthony Warlow) decides to take on their cases. Ventoura (best known for Packed to the Rafters) and singer-dancer Maunder are talented and likeable leads, and opera/musical theatre veteran Warlow more than matches them for showmanship. 

Cell Block Tango in CHICAGO. Photo: Jeff Busby

Rounding out the cast is Roxie’s hapless, cuckolded husband, Amos Hart, suitably meekly played by Peter Rowsthorn (Kath and Kim’s hen-pecked ‘Brett’). But perhaps the biggest vocal talent on stage is engineer-turned-singer, Asabi Goodman as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, the prison warden in cahoots with Roxie and Velma. Her song, ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ is a standout, as she effortlessly belts out a full-throated, rich rendition in the role played by Queen Latifah in the Oscar-winning 2002 film, Chicago. 

Asabi Goodman and Zoë Ventoura in CHICAGO. Photo: Jeff Busby

The orchestra and choreography in this production are both outstanding and the musicians and supporting ensemble of singers and dancers deserve applause for their near-flawless execution. Tunes like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Cell Block Tango’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ are crowd-pleasers but I think my favourite was ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’. In this number, Roxie sits on Billy’s lap and effectively becomes his ventriloquist’s dummy, as he provides ‘her’ answers to the media scrum.

Lucy Maunder, Anthony Warlow and ensemble in CHICAGO. Photo: Jeff Busby

When the press inevitably lose interest in her case and move on to chase the next headline, Roxie is incredulous and furious. But as Billy Flynn tells her: “You’re a phony celebrity. In a couple of weeks no-one will know who you are.” 

Fame is fleeting but Chicago lives forever.


Capitol Theatre. Sydney

Until 28 July, 2024

Festival Theatre, Adelaide
From 4 August

Canberra Theatre Centre
From 7 September


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