Chicago

Written on June 7th, 2022

An Energy-Filled Wild Ride into Fake News

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Director/Choreographer Donna Feore has come back from the pandemic closure with a big bang. This season’s musical Chicago is her flashiest, brightest, fastest-paced, most energetic show yet! This is certainly the musical that has it all – excellent singing, dancing, acting – probably the best I’ve seen on Stratford’s stage, or maybe any stage, for that matter.

But don’t go expecting to see any resemblance to the 2002 Oscar-winning movie. The plot line has been around for a long time – the story was first told by playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins. Then a silent movie came out in 1928 – the merry murderesses of Chicago were documented in the roaring twenties at the time they were carrying out their dirty deeds. The story was told again in a 1942 movie entitled Roxie Hart.

In Chicago, the events are announced by an emcee, Vaudeville style. The audience is told that it will be a story of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery – all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.”

Chorus girl wanna-be Roxie Hart shoots and kills her illicit lover when he tries to leave her, and ends up in murderesses’ row in a Chicago jail, under the care of Matron Mama Morton. Vaudeville performer Velma Kelly has killed her husband and the other half of her sister act when she catches them in bed together. She is in the same jail. Lawyer Billy Flynn says he will defend the women, claiming he does it for love, not the cash that he demands up front. Roxie’s hubby, the pitiable Amos Hart, tries to raise money for her defence. But justice is decided in the newspapers, not the court room. Both Velma and Roxie try to win the praise of Mary Sunshine, the radio reporter who broadcasts court room drama and can change the mind of jurors.

Famous choreographer and director Bob Fosse wanted to make the tale into a musical, but had to wait until the original author died to get the rights. In 1976, Chicago opened on Broadway, starring Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s then- wife, along with musical theatre great Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach (later of Law & Order). In 1996, a few years after Fosse’s death, the show was revived on Broadway, choreographed in Fosse style, starring Bebe Neuwirth (Frasier’s Lillith) and one of Fosse’s protégés and lovers Ann Reinking, along with Joel Grey. Although cast members have changed over the years, this production continues, and is the second longest running musical on Broadway, right after Phantom of the Opera.

Until now, all the productions of Chicago I’ve seen (three to be exact) have presented it in the Broadway/Fosse style. So it was very refreshing to see Feore’s lively interpretation.

Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Velma Kelly owns this show. She has spent most of the past 13 years at the Stratford Festival, since graduating from the musical theatre performance program at Sheridan College, where she won the female Triple Threat award for the best singer-actor-dancer. She has certainly impressed us with her triple threat skills and made her mark in the past, as Janet in Rocky Horror Show, Josephine in HMS Pinafore and Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street. But as Velma, she has absolute control of the show. Her “I Just Can’t Do It Alone” number is most amazing with her powerful singing, brilliant dance moves and hilarious facial expressions. Chelsea Preston as Roxie Hart also demonstrates excellent triple threat skills, and keeps us entertained with the story of hubby Amos, in the song “Funny Honey”.

Steve Ross is a delight as the hapless Amos with his rendition of “Mister Cellophane”. As always, Dan Chameroy is charming, and perfect in the role of Billy Flynn. His “All I Care About is Love” is almost convincing, but then you remember he’s a lawyer. Sandra Caldwell as Matron Mama Morten demonstrates amazing vocal skills when she belts “When You’re Good to Mama.” Robert Markus gives an excellent performance, showing his wide vocal range. And a shout out to Chad McFadden for his dead Fred Casely portrayal – far more work than any corpse should do.  

The talented ensemble and the chorus members are all excellent. The dancers’ high kicks, spins, leaps and a myriad of moves are synchronized perfectly.

In our discouraging world today, where fake news is presented as fact, where social media has become the source of questionable information, and truth is often abandoned for the sake of good story, Mary Sunshine is a reminder that this is nothing new. As Billy Flynn says in his summation to the jury “Things are not always what they appear to be.”

If you can only go to one show this summer, see this energetic cast in Chicago. You will be energized.

Chicago continues in repertory until October 30 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo: Jennifer Rider-Shaw (centre) as Velma Kelly with Devon Michael Brown (left), Lakota Knuckle (right), and members of the company in Chicago. Photo by David Hou.

Chicago
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Script adaptions by David Thompson
Director and Choreographer Donna Feore
Music Director Franklin Brasz
Adapted by Erin Shields
Performed by Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Chelsea Preston, Dan Chameroy, Sandra Caldwell, Robert Markus, Steve Ross, et al.
Stratford Festival Production
Festival Theatre, Stratford
April 6 to October 30, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Fun Fact:  Stratford actor Colm Feore (Donna Feore’s husband and this season’s Richard III) was in the 2002 movie Chicago.

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