Chicago is a tongue-in-cheek look at the manipulative power of the press, the workings of 1920s American courtrooms, and the desire to escape the mundane in order to achieve the dizzying heights of being a celebrity. The original play is based on a number of true stories, and the celebrity treatment of the accused by the press of the time. Dating back to 1975, the subsequent musical was a long-running Broadway success, and a major 2002 film—which probably explains why many people will know many of the songs and have a clear image of the vivacious young women at the centre of the piece.
The musical centres on the trial of Roxie Hart (Heidi Enchelmaier), interweaving her story with that of fellow murderess Velma Kelly (Joanna Nash). Velma is already in prison—attracting widespread press attention following the murder of her cheating husband and sister. But Velma disappears from the front pages when Roxie murders Fred (her lover, who had threatened to leave her). Both women employ Billy Flynn (Joshua Moore) to defend them. Flynn is an expensive and super-confident lawyer, who has worked out the importance of having a good story for the press as a route to gain his clients’ acquittal.
Presented as a ‘vaudeville show,’ the musical is introduced by a ringmaster (Tony Meggitt), with interjections from the musical director (Benjamin Tubb-Hearne) and even frequent cast requests for ‘my exit music.’ Sherryl-Lee Secomb (Director) set the scene, incorporating a smattering of circus-style silk performance even before the show began. And ensured this styling was maintained through the show, providing some fantastic opportunities for the ensemble.
The show has a number of major set pieces, where all 40+ members of the cast were on stage, getting everyone’s feet tapping. The opening All that Jazz may not have been quite as upbeat as we might have hoped. But there was some excellent ensemble work in this production: the circus-styling of Razzle Dazzle, and the superb Cell Block Tango (“He had it coming”), were particular highlights. Congratulations to the choreographic team, led by Desney Toia-Sinapati (Me and My Baby being one of many memorable routines)—and of course to the whole cast, but in particular to the dancers (Amy MacGregor, Izzy Smith, Jade Wright, Kaitlin Hague, Kristan Ford, Luke Marino, Shannon Metzeling, Simon Lyell, Stewart Matthews). Unfair of me to highlight one dancer, but Luke Marino is certainly one to watch for the future.
The Savoyards is an amateur, community-based theatre company with high standards, bringing major musical productions to the local stage. Audiences are fortunate that the team put together such an excellent variety of shows, and attract some great performers. The leads were well-cast, although I wondered if Kyle Fenwick (Miss Sunshine) was suffering with a cold on the day. Danika Saal (Mama Morton) certainly did justice to When You're Good to Mama, relishing the role of the manipulative Matron with the soft spot for the convicted Hunyak (Jessica Boersen). Moore was a good choice as Billy Flynn, the role suiting his vocal range and enabling him to demonstrate his acting, dancing and comedic skills. Equally Enchelmaier was up to the challenges of playing Roxie, particular when enjoying major set-pieces such as Roxie, Nowadays, and of course the almost showstopping fun when playing the ‘dummy’ to Moore’s ventriloquist (We Both Reached for the Gun). Nash has a strong voice, and she can certainly dance; her I Can't Do It Alone deserved better applause than it attracted on the day, and of course Nowadays was an understandable crowd-pleaser.
Amos Hart (Rod Jones) was the standout….an interesting feature of a role with a solo about his invisibility (Mr Cellophane). Great character acting and a very impressive pratfall (or was it just a well-worked recovery from a trip on the day?). Let’s hope that the Savoyards again have Guys and Dolls in their sights. It would be interesting to see Jones as Nathan Detroit, and I am sure the rest of the leads would love the chance to audition to join him.
The success of any show depends not only on the cast but also of the work of those behind the scenes. Chicago must be a gift to any talented and enthusiastic costume designer. The Savoyards team, led by Kim Heslewood, didn’t disappoint: short skirts, a suitably powerful outfit for ‘Mama,” great circus and ‘crowd’ outfits for the ensemble, and fabulous sequined flapper costumes for Enchelmaier and Nash’s final number.
It was lovely to see the orchestra centre stage, but I wonder if this may have created some challenges for the sound team (David Sowdon & David Longton). There were a number of points where the sound, and also the lighting (Alan Nutley), detracted from the performances. I am sure the lighting and sound issues will be addressed for the rest of the run, but it was disappointing that these problems hadn’t been ironed out after the first show. Lighting and sound were an intermittent distraction during the matinee I saw. Lead actors were occasionally left in the dark—particularly noticeable on many occasions stage right, but also at the climax of Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag, when Enchelmaier’s face almost completely disappeared. The sound, particularly in the first half, was cranked up a little too high, leading to what a fellow audience member described as ‘disembodied’ character of many of the voices (noticeable for example when the Ringmaster opened the show). Some of the microphones continued to crack and pop into the second half, but at least the feedback problems of the first act were resolved during the interval.
However, once these issues are resolved, I am sure the audiences in the rest of this sell-out run will have a ball.
Verdict: Well-worth going if you can. Look out for the opportunity to buy 2019 Season Tickets (available November 2018).
Audience tip: Arrive early, as there is plenty of parking and lots of space in the foyer for drinks before the show. Seats in row I & J might be preferred (or H for those requiring mobility assistance), but all seats appear to provide an excellent view. 2 hours 35 minutes (including 20-minute interval), and note the advisory (adult language and themes). Chicago has only 8 performances and it appears that the rest of the shows are sold out (opened on 29 September and closes on 13th October). Tickets may still be available at The Savoyards website $50 ($45 10+ Group, $47 Concession, $28 Junior). Or why not keep an eye on the website and book ahead for the 2019 season. 2019 Season ticket sales open in November.
Catherine Lawrence, perspectives
The reviewer attended the Saturday 6th October 2018 matinee (1:30pm).