Savoyards have brought their blockbuster 2018 season to a close with a grand reimagining of the sizzling, scintillating and smokey Kander, Ebb, and Fosse phenomenon: Chicago. This show is notorious for the dark, gritty, sexy feel of the staging, but under the eye of Director Sherryl-Lee Secomb a boldly dazzling production burst forth onto the IPAC stage and showed us what all that jazz was really about.
Secomb brought us into the world of her three ring circus, fully embracing Billy Flynn’s line and running with it. A big, colourful set, drenched in exposed coloured light bulbs greeted the audience. Everything in the show was drawn towards this end, embracing Amos’s role as the sad clown, the narrations from a perpetually smiling, too-happy, vaudevillian ringmaster, and even a surprise judge-in-the-box all lent a level of glitz and fun to a normally dark show.
Clear, concise blocking, wonderful use space, and small set piece changes allowed for a show that constantly flowed, and allowed Secomb to really fill every second of the production cleverly. Drawing the audience through from the huge production numbers, through to the quite, still numbers, everything felt designed to have the most significant impact upon the audience, and to let the incredibly capable actors shine onstage.
This was let down slightly by the lighting design not totally matching the potential of the rest of the show. Overall the design was patchy, with some dark spots across the stage, and while this worked somewhat with the aesthetic it sometimes meant we couldn’t see the actors faces, especially with the spotlights never quite landing on their target. The most notable moment for this was in the finale, when Roxie’s head was totally cut out of the spotlight. This may have been a deliberate nod to Velma’s constant grab for the spotlight, and Roxie never quite measuring up, but it happened on a few other occasions as well, making the distinction unclear.
The choreography by Desney Toia-Sinapati is perfection. From the opening moments of ‘All That Jazz’ through ‘Cell Block Tango’ and into the iconic ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’ Toia-Sinapati put the dancers through their paces and executed some frankly breathtaking numbers. Some very intelligent nods to the Fosse choreography, and some wonderfully refreshing new work combine to push the production along like a freight train from start to finish. As always with Toia-Sinapati’s choreography it is the little things that really tie the show together, and small portions of choreographed movement between dance numbers appearing through the production cinched everything together and gave the production a slick, cohesive feel.
Musical direction by Benjamin Tubb-Hearne, leading the company from high atop the IPAC stage, was impeccable. A tight orchestra that sizzled from the trumpets first notes in the overture all the way through the production, and a cast full of sensational voices all worked together under his baton, his musical direction tying all of the show elements together into a giddy, big-top inspired, jazz fuelled night of fun. Popping in and out with small lines and stage business, Tubb-Hearne lent a charm and camaraderie to the show, while leading the powerhouse cast and orchestra through the well known numbers.
A detraction from this was the balance of the sound design. The band and cast were often out of balance, and it was quite difficult to hear the full ensemble over the orchestra. This is not to say that the orchestra was too loud; it was the perfect volume, but the singers were not given the support needed. This settled a little through the duration of the show, but it was never quite right. Additionally, mic cues were a little scattered, and were often cut early, brought up late, or worse, left on a few times backstage.
Hands down the best thing about this show is Heidi Enchelmaier’s turn as Roxie Hart. She perfectly nails the balance between bawling, brawling, down in the gutter chorus girl, and manipulative, scheming, two steps ahead of the game starlet. Enchelmaier’s voice is to die for, and she powers through the iconic numbers like they were written for her. Her comedic timing, and energy as she bounces off the other cast keeps the show pelting along, and she delivers a performance that is both carefully curated, and wonderfully sincere.
On the other side of the murderess coin is Joanna Nash as down on her luck fading star Velma Kelly. There is something wonderfully real and gritty about Nash’s performance, with a voice that could blow the roof off the theatre, and an intensely manic energy, she brings a grounded realness to the role. Embracing the more difficult side of the character, a growing desperation, as Velma sees her light slowly dim, Nash doesn’t shy away from the truth of those difficult moments and this makes for a wonderful counterpoint against Enchelmaier’s performance. To top it off, Nash dances her way through the show like she’s walking through the park, and could do it all day, every day. She makes it look way too easy, and it is wonderful.
Bringing a dazzling, youthful energy, and a mega-watt smile to the stage, Joshua Moore as Billy Flynn is a stand out. While Flynn is often cast as the older and wiser shuckster, Moore brings such a youthful vigour, and razor sharp performance to the stage you have no choice but to believe him. He perfectly nails the fakery in the big numbers; ‘All I Care About Is Love’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’, and has great fun manipulating the situation in ‘We Both Reached For The Gun’, and then in the cool light of day, twists the knife effortlessly, letting us see that Flynn is nothing more than a carefully put together showman. A stellar performance, that raises the energy levels every time he is onstage Moore’s Billy Flynn is worth the price of admission alone.
As the Countess of the Clink, Matron Mama Morton, Danika Saal delivers a dynamite performance. Often played as a larger than life character, Saal’s delivery is subtle, relaxed, and draws the audience in like a fly into a spider web. Another voice in this cast that can blow rooftops off buildings, Saal has a timbre and a style that is inimitable, and she makes the most of each and every opportunity. Easily one of the most well crafted moments of the show is her performance of ‘Class’ with Nash, just casually sprawled on the front steps, looking the audience over as if she were better than all of them put together. Calmly smoking her cigarette, and weighing each of us as to how she can use us best. It is a masterful performance, delivered by an exceptional talent.
In a cast of jewels, Rod Jones’ Amos Hart shines especially bright. He gives a heartbreaking performance as the constantly overlooking, used, and abused Mr Cellophane. A sad clown that potters quietly about the stage begging not for the spotlight, but for a moment of attention, the role can easily be mishandled and overplayed. But the sincerity, warmth, and constant optimism Jones brings to the character is gorgeous. His rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’ is delightful and brings a warmth and humanity to a show that is so focussed on finding your own spotlight.
The cast of Chicago is full of talent, and everyone’s unique talents and hard work combine to make a truly spectacular production. Some honourable mentions must go to Kyle Fenwick, as Mary Sunshine, a charming and thoughtful performance, if plagued slightly by some vocal issues on opening weekend. Additionally David McLaughlin must be commended for his comedic timing in the “show within a show” during the trial. He utterly stole the scene and ran away with it, only giving it back once he’d taken his bow and left, it was a laugh-until-you-cry moment, and he took it for all it was worth. Last but not least, in a show full of moments worthy of mention, was Kym Brown as The Judge, complete with cigar and gavel. Her entrance is delightfully themed, and her performance lifts the whole trial scene into a hilarious, wonderful melee that pushes the show towards its conclusion.
Chicago is a wonderful showcase of what can happen in community theatre when a show is reimagined. Something that many professional companies simply cannot, and will not do. Community theatre is in a space to take great risks, to use their imagination boundlessly, and to completely reshape what a show can mean to us. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket to this sold out gem, enjoy the show, you are in for one heck of a ride. If you didn’t, I highly recommend you keep a close eye on what Savoyards’ are doing in 2019, and get your tickets early.