Review: ‘Chicago’

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Well – what an opening night for Collingwood College Woodplayers’ production of Chicago! Promising a story of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery”, the sensational cast and orchestra certainly delivers a sassy and syncopated rendition of the American musical. 

Set in the jazz age of the boozy 1920s, Chicago follows the two showgirl murderesses, Roxie Hart (played by Mia Singleton) and Velma Kelly (played by Tamsin Matthewman) as they fight for fame and notoriety in Prohibition era Chicago. Velma and Roxie both compete for the attention of acclaimed lawyer Billy Flynn (played by Ben Osland), who manipulates the press like a marionette in the punchy musical number ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ and eventually acquits the vaudevillian murderesses. After faster paced and more sensational crimes tempt away the press, in an act of self-preservation Velma and Roxie team up and bring back to life their sparkle of fame with a new rendition of the Kelly Sisters’ famous double act. Featuring some of the most iconic numbers in musical history, the cast and orchestra of Collingwood College Woodplayers manage to capture the glitz and decadence of Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s iconic stage show. First performed in 1975 in New York city, this musical has been running for over 45 years and has even been made into an Academy Award for Best Picture winning film.

Jazzy and hedonistic in equal measure, but also had the audience laughing

Opening with the incendiary ‘And All That Jazz’, the cast ensures that the spark of Chicago sustains throughout the performance. Mia Singleton absolutely steals the show with her faultless and sensationally corrupt characterisation of Roxie Hart – with a perfectly executed American accent, Singleton shines under the spotlight. Nailing her musical numbers (in particular ‘Roxie’ and ‘Me and My Baby’), her captivating acting, dancing and all-round razzle-dazzle is certainly the most memorable part of the production. Tamsin Matthewman also wonderfully slips into the role of dwindling star Velma Kelly, soulfully depicting the frustration at being number two and in particular excelling in the jazzy, ‘I Can’t Do it Alone.’ Similarly, Ben Osland as Billy Flynn, as Amos Hart and Amber Zijlma as Mama Morton all combine brilliantly to support Roxie and Velma’s narrative, each injecting a very different but equally exciting element to the show with their confident vocal abilities and charmingly likeability. However, not only is the Collingwood Woodplayers’ production of Chicago jazzy and hedonistic in equal measure, but had the audience laughing (watch Harry Stanbury as the male Miss Sunshine for some guaranteed giggles.) This list could easily go on; the chorus certainly deserves a mention, delivering a particularly strong performance, delivering multifaceted performances as the moth-like press, the murderesses of the Cook County Jail as well as the jury at Roxie’s trial.

Punchy and decadent rendition of Ebb and Fosse’s iconic musical

In particular, the raucous ‘Cell Block Tango’ is testament to the hard work of Chicago’s choreography – having the dance routines taking place virtually in the audience’s lap is no easy feat, but the show went on with no hiccups. Although using a more stripped back set to complement Collingwood’s cosy Mark Hillery Arts Centre, the use of a thin black veil separating the main stage from the orchestra was definitely a sound choice by director Lowri Mathias, allowing our first look at Roxie to be simply her bouncy-haired silhouette. The orchestra also cannot go by unmentioned, sustaining very securely the hot and syncopated difficulty of Chicago’s score. Overall, the blend of a strong cast and crew has produced a wonderfully entertaining show – headed by some very talented members of Collingwood College, this punchy and decadent rendition of Ebb and Fosse’s iconic musical is certainly one of the most enjoyable productions Epiphany term has to offer.

Chicago is being performed again on the 13th, 14th and 15th of March at 7:30pm.

Image: Collingwood College Woodplayers

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