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The Reviews Are In

Daily Mail

Applause for Sweeney's Roxy 

Former Brookside star Claire Sweeney fulfilled her childhood dream when she took the lead in a West End hit musical.  The 31-year-old Liverpudlian was thrilled as she stepped off stage from her opening night as the predatory Roxie Hart in the acclaimed Chicago.  Sweeney had taken over the famous role played until recently by Denise Van Outen, who received rave reviews for her performance as the woman who shoots her lover and ends up on death row. Within minutes of the curtain coming down, a clearly emotional Sweeney said: "This has been one of the best nights of my life.  "Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream. 
"I don't think I could have given any more tonight and then to see my mum and dad in the audience at the end was just fantastic. "It has been an amazing year for me and this is the icing on the cake." Sweeney first hit the TV screens as Lindsey Corkhill in the Channel 4 soap, Brookside.  But it was when she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother for Comic Relief earlier this year that she revealed her singing talents and desire to appear in a hit show.  She has since landed the role of the daredevil presenter of ITV1's Challenge Of A Lifetime, been a model for Marks and Spencer and appeared as Celine Dion in Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes.  But it is the West End that will hold her attention until March as she dons the now famous skimpy outfits of Chicago.  She joins on stage former pop star Alison Moyet as Mama Morton and US performer Leigh Zimmerman as Velma.  Together the characters on death row lead a constant battle for public sympathy for their crimes of passion and be saved the rope.  And Sweeney admitted the outfits were not quite as revealing as they appear. "I had about five layers of underwear on underneath. It is all about the illusion," she said. "Plus I don't mind wearing the costumes and just slip in to the role of Roxie." The star said she was nervous before her opening night and had been rehearsing hard but was now loving every minute


ITV

Sweeney makes Chicago debut 
Ex-Brookside star Claire Sweeney saw the curtain go up on her West End debut - but drew a mixed reaction from critics. The actress was far from a flop as she took the main role of Roxie Hart in hit show Chicago to fulfil a childhood dream of taking the lead in a musical. But reviewers, while agreeing she passed the test, were not united in bestowing praise on her performance. While Robert Gore-Langton of the Daily Express was full of admiration, she had a more subdued impact on the Daily Mail's Michael Coveney. Coveney wrote: "She does well. She knows the steps. She sings the notes, some of them flatly, but her mezzo is well developed." However he points out that the character of Roxie is "hard-edged, calculating and above all a vicious bitch". "Miss Sweeney is too darned nice. Too anxious to please. She ends up being Roxie without heart," he noted. "Claire gives her all - which is not all that much - from the off and while she dives effectively into little pools of pathos now and then, she never sets the stage alight. She's good. And that's all she is." But in her favour Gore-Langton wrote: "Sassy and kooky, Ms Sweeney makes jailbird Roxie her own. It's a joyous debut of pure charm." Even he conceded, however, that the real star of the show was the musical itself. Sweeney's stage role follows a long stint in Channel 4's Merseyside soap Brookside, but her big break came in Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year. It made her a household name and led to her being offered a role as presenter of ITV1's Challenge Of A Lifetime. After she came offstage last night, 31-year-old Sweeney said: "Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream. "I don't think I could have given any more tonight and then to see my mum and dad in the audience at the end was just fantastic."It has been an amazing year for me and this is the icing on the cake." She followed stars like Denise Van Outen and Ruthie Henshall in donning the skimpy outfits for the role of Roxie in the show at London's Adelphi Theatre.


BBC Online

Ex-Brookside star Claire Sweeney drew a mixed response from critics watching her West End debut in hit show Chicago. The actress, 31, was far from a flop as she took the main role of Roxie Hart on Monday, to fulfil a childhood dream of taking the lead in a musical.  But reviewers, while agreeing she passed the test, were not united in bestowing praise on her performance. She sings the notes, some of them flatly, but her mezzo is well developed
Michael Coveney
Daily Mail 
While Robert Gore-Langton of the Daily Express was full of admiration, she had a more subdued impact on the Daily Mail's Michael Coveney. Coveney wrote: "She does well. She knows the steps. She sings the notes, some of them flatly, but her mezzo is well developed."  But he stressed that Sweeney is "too darned nice" for the "hard-edged, calculating and above all vicious bitch" character of Roxie. Claire Sweeney was described as "too darned nice" to be Roxie
In her favour Gore-Langton wrote: "Sassy and kooky, Ms Sweeney makes jailbird Roxie her own. It's a joyous debut of pure charm." Even he conceded, however, that the real star of the show was the musical itself. Sweeney's stage role follows a long stint in Channel 4's Merseyside soap Brookside, but her big break came in Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year.  Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream
Claire Sweeney 
It made her a household name and led to her being offered a role as presenter of ITV1's Challenge Of A Lifetime.  After she came offstage, Sweeney admitted she had had an "amazing year". "Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream," she said. Sweeney followed stars like Denise Van Outen and Ruthie Henshall in donning the skimpy outfits for the role of Roxie in the show at London's Adelphi Theatre. 


Claire Sweeney's dream comes true in Chicago debut 

Claire Sweeney says her opening night in Chicago was a dream come true. She has taken over as Roxie in the West End musical. The former Brookside star has replaced Denise Van Outen in the role. Claire said: "This has been one of the best nights of my life. "Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream. "I don't think I could have given any more tonight and then to see my mum and dad in the audience at the end was just fantastic. "It has been an amazing year for me and this is the icing on the cake." The star said she was nervous before her opening night and had been rehearsing hard but was now loving every minute.

Story filed: 10:58 Tuesday 4th December 2001


Annanova

Musical cheers for Chicago Claire 
Former Brookside star Claire Sweeney fulfilled her childhood dream when she took the lead in a West End hit musical. The 31-year-old Liverpudlian was thrilled as she stepped off stage from her opening night as the predatory Roxie Hart in the acclaimed Chicago. Sweeney had taken over the famous role played until recently by Denise Van Outen, who received rave reviews for her performance as the woman who shoots her lover and ends up on death row. Within minutes of the curtain coming down, a clearly emotional Sweeney said: "This has been one of the best nights of my life. "Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamt of starring in a West End show and this is one of those times where the reality is even better than the dream. "I don't think I could have given any more ... and then to see my mum and dad in the audience at the end was just fantastic. It has been an amazing year for me and this is the icing on the cake." Sweeney first hit the TV screens at Lindsey Corkhill in the Channel 4 soap, Brookside. But it was when she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother for Comic Relief earlier this year that she revealed her singing talents and desire to appear in a hit show She has since landed the role of the daredevil presenter of ITV1's Challenge Of A Lifetime, been a model for Marks and Spencer and appeared as Celine Dion in Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes. But it is the West End that will hold her attention until March as she dons the now famous skimpy outfits of Chicago.


 

Chicago is Claire's kinda night on the town Dec 4 2001


A STAR is born! And London has a budding new first lady of song . . . A natural to inherit the mantle of Elaine Paige or Barbara Dickson, who is even capable of capturing the lustre of Liza Minelli. Last night, the West End took the Liverpool girl with a big voice and an even bigger future - who I first saw in an ECHO charity show - to its heart. Claire Sweeney stood centre stage as the new star of the award-winning musical Chicago, acknowledging the sort of ringing applause that must have filled her dreams as a teenage drama student. The great ovation from the audience at the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand, capped a career that started out in Liverpool's clubland and reached the UK's theatre metropolis via television. Quite clearly, Lindsey Corkhill had not gone to Newcastle when she made her weekend exit after six years living in Brookside Close. She has been transformed from soap queen to stage diva, taking over the role of Roxie Hart, an American hardcase who shoots her lover and joins a handful of other women on Death Row. And for Claire, 30, that meant stepping straight into the shoes of ex-Big Breakfast presenter Denise Van Outen and topping out a glittering stage cast that also included husky-voiced pop star Alison Moyet as the formidable prison matron. But it is Claire's part, a celebrity-seeking chorus girl killer, in the so-called Drop Dead Musical - with hits like All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle - that packs the prime punch. Not that the former Liverpool Elliott-Clarke Theatre School pupil from Walton is easily scared. An apprenticeship belting out big band ballads in Merseyside social clubs followed by daredevil antics like swimming with crocodiles for ITV's Challenge of a Lifetime meant that no challenge was too big for Claire. Not even the one that saw her risk ridicule by taking part in Celebrity Big Brother. As it happened, Claire, very much the junior and least-known star of that show, saw off the likes of Chris Eubank, Anthea Turner, and Vanessa Feltz, only to be pipped at the post by comedian Jack Dee. But 10m viewers is good for any profile and Channel Four credited Claire with making the show such a runaway success. The other blockbuster breakthrough, and the one most appropriate to Britain's newest musical star, was her appearance as Celine Dion on Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes. Liverpool entertainers have enjoyed a long association with the West End. There was Empire Theatre usher Con O'Neill in Willy Russell's Blood Brothers: Graham Bickley in Miss Saigon: Maghull schoolboy Kent Riley as Artful Dodger in Oliver at the London Palladium and the Lipa students who starred in the Abba musical Mama Mia. And in the case of Claire Sweeney, last night's dazzling debut forms the culmination of a determined course that began with her first singing and dancing lessons at the age of 11. It is as a singer that she is best remembered at the Elliott-Clarke School, from where she later transferred to the Italia Conti School in London. Later she signed on with leading agent Jonathan Shalit, the man who also discovered teenage opera sensation Charlotte Church. Bob Massie, head of entertainment at London Weekend Television, has also heralded Claire as "the new Cilla Black." Her Brookside alter ego Lindsey Corkhill endured two rapes, was thrown in jail for alleged drug smuggling, became a gangster's moll, and was finally involved in a lesbian love triangle. But Claire escaped from soap early enough to avoid being typecast. Chicago's box office appeal relies on its characters living dangerously and, in Claire's case, being sexy in leather and fishnets. Back in April, 1971 a star of the future was indeed being born in a Liverpool maternity unit. Four years later, in June 1975, the musical Chicago was being premiered in New York. Now, 26 years on, a new star and a favourite show have made for a match from musical Heaven.
___________________________

joeriley@liverpoolecho.co.uk


Daily Mail

BROOKSIDE TO CHICAGO IS A STEP TOO FAR 
(byline Michael Coveney)

My kind of show, Chicago is, where getting away with murder is the name of the game, in a noisy hall where there's a nightly brawl. Into this sexy mayhem of lingerie, black leather and bad behaviour last night stepped Claire Sweeney, making her West End debut as foxy Roxie Hart, who has killed her lover, the furniture man. Could Claire hack it? Scoring on Celebrity Big Brother and advertising cute bras for Marks and Spencer is one thing. And holding down a role on Brookside for several years is surely another. But fronting a big musical alongside the daunting and brilliant Leigh Zimmerman as her fellow criminal adulteress in Cook County Jail might prove a challenge too far. She does well. She knows the steps. She sings the note, some of them flatly, but her mezzo soprano is well-developed. And she looks as though she's having a ball.  And that's where the problems start. Claire Sweeney is nothing if not likeable, the smiling girl next door, never averse to a photo-shoot or a publicity opportunity - just like Roxie Hart.  But Rosie is also hard-edged, calculating and above all a vicious bitch of the 1920's saloon dives and vaudeville she yearns to inhabit and emulate. Miss Sweeney is too darned nice. Too anxious to please. And long stretches of her performance, while perfectly well programmed, have no inner fire whatsoever.  She ends up being Roxie without heart. And Miss Zimmerman - a flaming redhead with amazing, contortionists' limbs and a musical personality to send you screaming for Ethel Merman to lower the temperature - simply strides off with the evening. This was not the case with Claire's British predecessors in the role.  Ruthie Henshall revealed unsuspected sassiness and sheen, Maria Friedman was an angel of deviating vice, and Denise Van Outen scored because of her control, modesty and slinky, sideways-on slow burn. Claire gives her all - which is not all that much - from the off, and while she dives effectively into little pools of pathos now and then, she never sets the stage alight. She's good. And that's all she is. Her wig is a mess and her lingerie - obviously not from M & S - looks unfortunately as though it was ordered from a prim mail catalogue firm. The rest of the production , which is just a jumped-up concert transforming wittily into courtroom drama, remains sharp and well-drilled, with sensational chorus dancers and lively onstage band.  Other leads are less impressive. Neil McCaul's crooked lawyer is a pop-eyed Johnny One-NOte while Alison Moyet's prison matron, though magnificently sung, is awkwardly acted and spoken,  Chicago, now in its fifth year, remains a fabulous musical phenomenon. But this newly-cast version does not signal its finest hour.

 

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