Chicago musical: Cuba Gooding Jr ‘Show me the money? Do you KNOW what they pay here?’On April 14, 2018 by Margot
Chicago has just opened in London at the Phoenix Theatre. The name is apt, since this show just keeps being reborn.
Most people probably still know it from the Oscar-winning 2002 film with Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere, however the Kander and Ebb classic was created back in 1975.
It is more relevant than ever as it confronts sex, sexism, abuse, women’s rights and, most painfully of all, social media and public opinion.
The casting of the Hollywood star is a major coup for the show, although Cuba is already an official adopted luvvie after kissing Stephen Fry at the 2015 BAFTAs.
So, is Cuba doing it for the love or the money?
After the opening night, the stars and lucky guests partied at L’Escargot in London’s Soho.
I met up with Josefina Gabrielle (Velma), Ruthie Henshall (Mama), Sarah Soetaert (Roxie) and, of course, Cuba Gooding Jr at the celebrations.
Cuba was getting advice from John Barrowman on how to look after his voice (cayenne pepper, not too much, honey, warm water and gargle.) As I joined them, John’s parting shot was: “And champagne. That always works.”
Speaking of the finer things in life, Cuba has taken on the role of slippery lawyer Billy Flynn, who famously will take on any case if the price is right. This, of course, echoes, Cuba’s Oscar-winning cry from Jerry Maguire.
I wasted no time in going straight for the kill and asked if they had “Shown him the money?” Cuba laughed and told me: “Do you know what they’re paying me? It’s not what I’m used to!”
He explains that the show brings its own rewards for him: “When I was on Broadway in 2013 for five months (in The Trip To Bountiful), I came off that stage and I wrote two scripts and I got the role in The People Vs OJ Simpson. And I feel as strong about my artistic endeavours now on opening night as I did when I came off that stage in Broadway.”
He may not be known as a singer, but Cuba can carry a tune. However I did not realise his first foray into showbusiness was as a dancer.
Cuba told me: “I’ve always been musically motivated but I started as a break-dancer first. I was in the closing ceremony for the (1984 Los Angeles) Olympics (dancing) behind Lionel Ritchie. I was in Paul Abdul’s video, spinning on my head. At my age I can’t do the gymnastics but I can still do the finesse.”
I noticed he brings a little freestyle to his moves as Billy and wondered how he got on with the young dancers in the show.
Cuda said: “We push each other. They waited for me to talk to them first but I think they have accepted me into their tribe and now they’ve started messing with me so we have a nice rapport.”
He may be a veteran performer but I cheekily ask if he’s had any mishaps so far: “All the time. The first couple of previews, in the sections where I have to quickly pop up on stage I’d be backstage and there’s be crickets on stage – like I completely missed my cue.”
Chicago was always renouned as a show that told harsh truths about the reality of human nature versus what people want to hear – and this means it is just as potent today, if not more so.
Cuba added: “There’s a line where Billy says ‘Chicago is such a tough town they shoot the women out from under you.’ It never used to get a laugh but now I play it so that it acknowledge how inappropriate it is and it gets a big laugh.
“I’m telling you, man, this musical was dealing with issue we’re still dealing with today, like the Me Too movement. It elevates the material.”
CHICAGO is playing at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Rd, London, WC2H 0JP