Review: Diva Productions take 'Chicago' to new heights at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds

Dale Vaughan as Billy Flynn in Diva Productions performance of Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.
Dale Vaughan as Billy Flynn in Diva Productions performance of Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

For Wakefield-based Diva Productions, who were founded in 2013, a musical with the reputation of Chicago could have been a real challenge.

But in their latest production, the team face the test head on, taking the scandalous plot, lively music and raucous choreography to new heights.

Sophie Massa and Charlotte Spowage as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in Diva Productions' Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

Sophie Massa and Charlotte Spowage as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly in Diva Productions' Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

The seminal musical, which tells the story of two women on trial for murder in 1920s Chicago, stars Sophie Massa (Footloose, Oliver, The Addams Family) as Roxie Hart, who finds herself behind bars after failing to convince her husband to take the blame for murder.

Though not the most comfortable dancer, Massa’s voice is enviable, and gives an enthralling performance as a wannabe celebrity.

But undoubtedly the star of the show is Charlotte Spowage (The Sound of Music, Avenue Q, Rita, Sue and Bob Too), whose Velma Kelly is as shrewd as she is seductive.

Spowage is a natural performer, and embodies her character with enthusiasm. Her Cell Block Tango monologue, arguably one of the show’s most popular musical numbers, has all the talent and raw energy that would be expected from such a number.

Charlotte Spowage as Velma Kelly in Diva Productions performance of Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

Charlotte Spowage as Velma Kelly in Diva Productions performance of Chicago at The Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

It is a vocal performance rivalled only by Suzé Trim (Our House, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors), whose Matron ‘Mama’ Morton exudes stage presence - and has a voice to match.

Dale Vaughan (The Sound of Music, Jesus Christ Superstar, Into the Woods) makes a sinfully convincing Billy Flynn, a defence attorney whose main priority is creating a media storm. He makes a perfect rival for Chris Moss (Avenue Q, Bat Boy The Musical, Legally Blonde the Musical), whose Amos Heart is both comedic and lovable, and quickly wins over the audience.

The main cast are supported by a 16-strong ensemble, comprised primarily of local talent. At the heart of the show, the tight-knit group show enthusiasm and skill, with only the occasional misstep. They are supported by Jonathan Mitra’s 11 piece band, who demonstrate barely a single falter through almost two solid hours of music.

There are definitely times when the stage feels a little cramped, but the ensemble make good use of the space, providing solid support for the main cast, and each making the most of their own brief appearances.

Diva Productions' performance of Cell Block Tango during Chicago at Leeds' Carriageworks Theatre.

Diva Productions' performance of Cell Block Tango during Chicago at Leeds' Carriageworks Theatre.

A notable member was Emma Hooker, whose performance as Hungarian Hunyak, an accused murderer, draw applause, and pity, from the audience.

Minimal use of props and a lack of scenery lends itself to the show and makes for smooth transitions, but can sometimes make it difficult for the audience to keep up with the setting of the scene.

A brilliant display of local talent, Chicago, by Diva Productions, runs at the Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, until Saturday, October 5.

Limited tickets are still available from the Carriageworks Theatre website.