The Alhambra

TWO blasts of a shotgun and cheating wife Roxie Hart finds herself facing the hangman's noose.

The smalltime showgirl soon realises that unless she re-invents herself, her next performance will be the Cook County "rope trick".

So she does what any scheming, self-promoting murderess banged-up in 1920s Chicago does - she enlists the help of smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, who transforms her from wide-eyed jailbird to darling of the Press.

"All I Care About Is Love," croons Billy, but of course all he really cares about is the money. For the right fee, he pulls the strings, talks the talk and gets the flashbulbs fixed on his cell block babes, taking centre stage in their very own press conferences. And as Roxie and her cell block rival Velma Kelly know too well, you haven't made it in Chicago until your trial is splashed across the front pages of the newspapers.

Kander and Ebb classic Chicago is a delightful period piece which never dates. It's Twenties screwball meets social comment on the nature of corruption and phony celebrity - themes as relevant today as they've ever been.

Rested and refreshed, this production is a blast. Murder, adultery, greed, deceipt and exploitation - it's all here, served up with quickfire comedy, slick choreography and sizzling sex appeal.

It's a tight, meticulously timed show, with every hand flick and gasp set to the beats of the live band. A fabulous, sexy ensemble of dancers did the striking Fosse choreography proud.

John Partridge was a joy as king of spin Billy, charming the stars out of the sky, and always one step ahead of the game. Razzle dazzling the courtroom, he's already moving onto his next client. Fame, he tells Roxie, is fleeting. "That's Chicago!"

Hayley Tamaddon was a terrific Roxie; bringing an endearing vulnerability to a tough cookie who's painfully aware of the hangman's shadow and of the opportunities that have passed her by. She captured the comic essence of Bob Fosse's choreography beautifully in highlights such as Me and My Baby and her fabulous duet with Billy, We Both Reached For The Gun.

Sophie Carmen-Jones set the stage alight as Vaudeville star Velma, purring her way through All That Jazz and leaving us all breathless with her quickfire 'one-woman double act', I Can't Do It Alone.

Sam Bailey makes an impressive musical theatre debut as canny cell block matron Mama Morton, and Waylon Jacobs stole our hearts as Amos "Mr Cellophane" Hart, Roxie's hapless wronged husband.

And holding it all together was the terrific on-stage band, whose infectious energy had us tapping toes and clicking fingers.

Great fun, and world-class performances all round. Runs until Saturday.