Hale July 2017 Masthead 3
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Chicago: Hot jazz and bad broads

Heather Wallace

He had it coming, he had it coming
He only had himself to blame
If you’d have been there, if you’d have seen it
I betcha you would have done the same

– Cell Block Tango

My theatre reviews have seen me time travelling around the early and mid 20th century of late. Ladies in Black and Cold Light had me in the 1950s while Chicago, performed by the Canberra Philharmonic Society, whisked me off to 1920s Chicago for a night of jazz, murder and deceit.

I am a big fan of Canberra Philo, every year they put on amazing shows and highlight the range of talent we have here in our city. For a night of technically amateur entertainment I always know I’m in for a treat.

And their production of Chicago is no different. I haven’t seen the show performed live on stage before, I only know it from the 2002 film version. On opening night I was joined by a close friend who loves the stage show and has seen it many times. Her delight in this production was telling, and despite a couple of opening night hitches, we both agreed it was one of the best musical productions we’ve seen for a while.

The basics of the plot are: a wannabe jazz starlet shoots her lover and awaits trial in a women’s prison where a celebrity murderess holds court. Both vie for the legal attentions of a hot shot lawyer who’s known for putting on one hell of a show for the jury. It’s a world where bad review can lead to death by hanging but the line between fame and infamy is always murky.

Honestly, I’d be happy with just a two hour of just ‘Cell Block Tango’, it’s so gutsy, raw and downright funny it almost makes you wish you’ve been crossed in love and join the murderous ladies belting out their rage.

To my delight though the show was so much more than that one performance and every single person on stage brings their A game. Will Huang as smooth lawyer Billy Flynn is a powerhouse, and the scene where he’s introduced to the audience surrounded by white feather-clad chorus girls is fabulous. Both his tuxedo and teeth gleam white, marking him out as untrustworthy and irresistibly charismatic.

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Let’s face it Roxie Hart is a be-yatch, with almost no redeeming qualities. She cheats on her husband, murders her lover because he’s walking out on her, lies and manipulates her way through prison and courts and all she cares about is getting her name in lights. Yet it is a delight to watch Vanessa de Jager bring her to life, never hiding how selfish and self-centred she is. Seeing her come up against master manipulator Billy Flynn is a joy, it’s the closest she gets to a comeuppance, and the way he turns her into a puppet in ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’ will have you laughing and wincing in turn.

By comparison Velma Kelly comes across much more sympathetically, thanks to the vulnerability Kelly Roberts brings to her, particularly as her star is waning in the courtroom compared to Roxie’s rising fame. Her ‘act of desperation’ trying to partner with Roxie shows that she might want to be the star but she’s pragmatic enough to settle for less. Roberts is a powerful singer not a dancer but she performs the dance routines with enough flair to make them fun.

Jonathon Rush is heart-breaking as Roxie’s sweet, loyal and trusting husband Amos, and his rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’ ripped my heart out. Andrew McMillan makes every second count of his limited stage time as Roxie’s dead lover Fred Casely.

Director Jim McMullen, music director Chris Ronan and choreographers Emily Appleton and Hannah Carey are to be applauded. They meld their stars and support cast together beautifully, combining jazz scores, acrobatics and dancing in one stand out spectacle after another.

Every time I thought there couldn’t be any more cast members left, more and more would come out on stage in racy, risqué outfits. If there’s a shortage of black and red lingerie and stockings in Canberra now, I think we know who’s to blame.

Writing this I still want to rise and give a standing ovation to the entire cast. This is a fun, sexy, stirring night out. As I left Erindale Theatre I gave in to the urge to dance and high kick my way out.

What can I say? If you’d have been there, I betcha you would have done the same!

the essentials

What: Chicago by the Canberra Philharmonic Society
Where: Erindale Theatre, McBryde Cres, Wanniassa
When: Until Saturday 25 March
Ticket: $25-$55
Web: philo.org.au/tickets

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Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (http://mythsandmisadventures.blogspot.com.au/), is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

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