By Richard Burman for Theatrepeople. Reviewed March 12, 2018
Chicago is one of the great musicals, premiering in 1975 and winner of many awards. It reflects the sleazy side of the Chicago of the 1920s. Director Debbie Keyt assembled a cast of seventeen to present this show. A band of seven talented instrumentalists, under the direction of Rhonda Vaughan, was situated at the rear of the stage with the actors performing in front of them. There was no scenery but set pieces and furniture were brought on and placed in different positions to represent the different locations. The main set pieces were six freestanding prison grills. At the top of the proscenium was a lit sign saying the name of the musical in style of the time of the story. There were three entrances to the performing area - up-right, up-left and up-centre - and the large cast managed these swiftly and cleanly. The musical is about murderesses and the corrupt prison and court proceedings of the period.
After a bright overturn by the band, Deanne Palmieri as Velma Kelly slunk onto the stage and opened the show with an exciting performance of “And All That Jazz” with a verve and vivacity which set the standard for the production and which she maintained throughout the whole show. This was an excellent performance. She was supported by an ensemble of eight talented girls. These actors, as well as singing and dancing crisply and with sparkle all throughout the show, also played their own individual murderesses. These dancers had been well drilled by the choreographer, Camilla Klesman.
The only murder we see is committed by Roxie Hart, played by Amy Gridley, and its is her story of manipulating all around her that we follow. Amy played the scheming Roxie well and made the most of her songs. She moved well, and with her blond wig, made an excellent contrast to Deanna’s Velma. The role of her on-the-make lawyer, Billy Flynn, was given to Shannon Pincombe. Shannon moved and sang well and clearly.
Of the important supporting roles, two actors demanded special commendation for creating convincing characters: Anne Gasko as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton and Dan Bellis as Amos Hart. Anne’s Mama hit just the right notes as the queen of the prison who supposedly helps other inmates for a financial cut. She has strong voice and it matched well with Deanne’s in the duet ‘Class’. Dan Bellis was well cast and created a believable character who is overlooked by and used by everyone else. He had one song, ‘Mr Cellophane’, which he sang with just the right emotion. This was a very good performance.
D. Calvert was cast in the crossdress role of Mary Sunshine and made a good contrast to the other characters, although I must admit I found it hard to understand many of the lyrics in the song “A Little Bit of Good”. The dialogue though was very clear. Stuart Anderson, Nicholas Armstrong and Justin Royce completed the cast, playing a variety of supporting roles.
The band accompanying the show was of a very high standard and played the jazzy music with skill. This was a well-directed, well-rehearsed production presented with gusto and to which the audience responded with genuine appreciation.
But there were a couple of things to watch out for and which just took the edge off for me. First, this was a miked show and at times the sound level was so high that the lyrics of the song could not be clearly understood and a couple of times, when there was dialogue while the band was playing, the band was so loud that the dialogue, even though miked, could not be heard or understood. Second, there were a couple of lights at the back of the stage which were in such a direction that when on, which was not all the time, shone in the eyes of the audience, which prevented them from seeing clearly what was happening on stage.
Still, this was a bright and breezy production of a well-known musical.