All that jazz: Oldham Coliseum revisits Chicago

Kevin Bourke
Chicago, Oldham Coliseum, Manchester theatre

With new musical direction and a darker satirical edge, the theatre’s latest production shows the hit jazz musical in a new light.

We’re all familiar with Chicago, the tale of murder, celebrity and jazz made famous by Broadway and the 2002 film starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but how many of us have considered its vaudevillian roots? Oldham Coliseum embraces the musical’s Prohibition-era setting and darker comic twists as it stages the first new production of Chicago since 1997. “The big thing that I really wanted to do was reclaim it from more recent productions,” says director Kevin Shaw. “They took out all the period detail out of it, as well as quite a lot of the satire. When it was written in 1975, Kander and Ebb and Bob Fosse deliberately used the form of a vaudeville show to tell the story of these two murderesses.” The teasing chanteuse Roxie Hart and fame-hungry Velma Kelly are played by Helen Power and Marianne Benedict respectively, whose powerful performances magnify the media furore of 1920s Chicago.

Chicago could almost have been written with the Coliseum stage in mind”

Established in 1885 at the height of the musical variety show craze from which Chicago takes its inspiration, the Coliseum is a fitting home for this new production. “Chicago could almost have been written with the Coliseum stage in mind,” chuckles Shaw, who worked to claim the rights to the musical after it closed on the West End last year. “It is absolutely typical of one that would have welcomed a performing troupe of just the kind that features in Chicago. We’ve got the theatre here where we’re using that ambience.”

As well as an eighteen-strong ensemble including actor-musicians and dancers, viewers themselves become part of the act and are cast as a “vaudevillian audience, watching a vaudevillian show.” Musical director John Morton’s utilises the cast’s flexibility and plays on Chicago’s twenties setting. “A lot of the bass lines are being played on a tuba rather than a bass,” explains Shaw. “That brings a bit of twist to it and makes it different from what people might be used to.” With a darker comic elements and a revitalised cast, the Coliseum’s musical direction isn’t the only unexpected twist in this brave new Chicago.

Culture Guides

Image credit: Maryna Makarenko, Sun-Eaters, 2022

Cinema

Classic pre-Code cinema, the Artist Film Weekender and the music of John Williams are amongst our highlights this month.

Exhibitions

Pause in the hustle and bustle of festive prep to take in some inspiration from this month’s top exhibitions.

The Ocean at the End of The Lane at the lowry

Families

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Manchester is bursting with fun, family activities to keep the kids entertained in the run up to Christmas!

Poet Helen Mort. Photo by Jan Bella

Literature

There’s live literature and book-buying opportunities a-plenty as November unfolds and Manchester – celebrating five years as a UNESCO city of Literature – and the wider North region welcomes some great writers, both in real life and online.

Music

The festive season is here, and whether you want to escape it or embrace it, we’ve got you covered.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Alongside radical sci-fi adaptations and free arts festivals, we take a look at some of the Christmas shows happening in the North.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Explore the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North for autumn.

Tours and Activities

We’re deep into Autumn now but don’t let that stop you from finding a new tour or activity to get stuck into.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Compass Festival 2022
Activity Until 27 November 2022, FREE

Compass Festival 2022

sunny bank mills
Activity Until 27 November 2022, from £2.00

Sunny Bank Mills Christmas Art & Makers Market

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £20

Pottery at Earth Pig Pottery and Fine Art in Buxton

Visual Arts Until 1 December 2022, from £20

Graffiti at Zap Graffiti

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £95

Blacksmithing at Forge Four

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £15

Embroidery with Sara Dennis at Lancaster Castle

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £59

Making silver stacker rings at The Old Granary

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £13

Candle making at Cheshire Workshops

Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £60

Glass fusing at Glassmonkey Studio

Textile taxidermy
Activity Until 1 December 2022, from £80

Textile taxidermy with Jaki Bogg at Craven Arts Studios