The South Coast Choral And Arts Society’s sold out production of Chicago, deserves to have had theatre goers clamouring for tickets because it delivers a sublime dose of razzle dazzle.
Director, Jonathan Ogilvie, has consciously chosen to blend elements from the original 1970s production and the revivalist version of the late 1990s. In the former, each musical number was presented as a 20s style, Vaudeville act, whereas the latter was more focussed on sex and jazz. This blend offers audiences the best of both worlds. In this production, we get each number announced with a little PT Barnum-like introduction, oft times sarcastic, while also enjoying the spectacle of bold jazz and sassy sexuality.
The story follows Roxie Hart (Ally Miller), a woman who murdered her lover and then tries to capitalise on her trial publicity to set herself up as a celebrity Vaudeville star. While in jail, she meets Valma Kelly (Shannen Beckett), a double murderer and former nightclub performer, who is also hoping her trial will give her a spike in celebrity status. Of course, Cook County Jail is only big enough for one ego, and smooth-talking, opportunistic lawyer, Billy Flynn (Jon Grear), is kept on his toes by these rivals and the fickle appetites of the media, led by Mary Sunshine (Kiara Wiese). Two other key figures are Matron “Mama” Morton (Georgia Martin), who makes connections and swings deals for inmates (for a price), and Roxie’s hapless husband, Amos Hart (Chris Stevenson), who is tossed to and fro by the course of events, like an autumn leaf in the breeze.
But first things first. The band. Chicago is blessed with a full band led by three musical directors, Emma Muhlack, Ali Dunbar, and Tim Wormald. On a raised, two level, backdrop, the band is well seen and well heard. Wormald, on drums, plays the role of conductor and is the first performer to break the fourth wall when he announces the show’s opening lines before heading back across stage to his kit.
Opening night was a slow burn with the cast taking the first act to move beyond perfectly executing the singing and choreography to living it. By act two, though, this production had found itself with the sensual and sexual accoutrements transforming beyond steps and gestures to becoming deeply embodied in the performance. The turning point was We Both Reached For The Gun, in which Grear and Miller ignited their chemistry and the chorus rising to new heights. With the spark lit, Miller built upon this new energy and focus, making Roxie one of the standout numbers of the show.
After interval, the highlights stacked one upon the other. The band’s entr’acte welcomed us back into the “space” with a wall of weeping sound, taking control of pace and emotion and setting the stage for “all that jazz” that had been promised from the start. In fact, early in act two, this reviewer was secretly hoping this show would never end!
Stevenon’s rendition of Mr Cellophane milked this tragi-comic number for all it was worth, complete with perfectly-time application of sad clown makeup to punctuate Amos’ depths of despair. We also see Beckett pull out all the stops in When Velma Takes The Stand; she was in full “Velma” mode, at once sultry, menacing, and desperate. Her three Vaudevillian chorus members added that extra razzamatazz to this number, as further proof of the depth of talent in this cast.
The showstopper, of course, was Razzle Dazzle, giving Grear his moment to shine with a full, Broadway treatment of this classic number. And everybody on stage pulled out all the stops. This was a triumph, further enhanced by Roxie and Velma’s closing numbers amid the soaring music, climactic set change, and the lingering sense of triumph that permeated the Victor Harbor Town Hall.