Pitlochry Festival Theatre
“The whole world’s gone lowbrow,” mourns hard-hustling prison queen bee Matron ‘Mama’ Morton to beleaguered showgirl Velma Kelly in John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s musical hitching up of celebrity culture’s tissue-sized skirts. If things were that bad in 1975, when the trio’s brash, flash and hip-thrustingly trashy reinvention of journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins’ 1926 play first appeared, pity how things have turned out forty-odd years later.
Don’t be put off by the show’s deceptively serious intent. As the high-kicking opener to Pitlochry’s Festival Theatre’s summer season this year, Richard Baron’s production is sex on legs and pretty much any other part of the body that can shimmy, wiggle or bump-and-grind.
Based around Niamh Bracken’s Velma and Lucie-Mae Sumner’s Roxie and their respective fall and rise on the back of crimes passionelle, Kander, Ebb and Fosse’s yarn is presented as a series of after-hours cabaret routines with an open-plan prison theme. Baron’s fifteen-strong ensemble set out their store from the off with a version of All That Jazz which, for anyone not sure before, makes its libidinous intent eye-poppingly explicit.
The sensation-seeking that follows is a sassy, brassy construction, with Chris Stuart-Wilson’s Fosse-inspired choreography driven by David Higham’s ten-piece speak-easy combo. Sumner in particular is a comic mix of gum-chewing brittleness and strike-a-pose blonde ambition, while Carl Patrick makes for a droolingly viperous Billy Flynn.
All of this combines to show how, in terms of rags-to-riches success stories and the requisite amount of soul-selling required to get rich, showbiz and crime are joined at the hip. It also lays bare how, in terms of front page news, sex still sells. If all this looks like reality TV and clickbait culture in waiting, it remains a ravishingly entertaining and deliriously cynical evocation of American values gone wrong.
The Herald, June 5th 2018