Chicago – Huron Country Playhouse 2015

Razzle Dazzle ‘em!

The production of Chicago now on stage at Huron Country Playhouse will razzle dazzle any audience.  It’s very well cast with entertainers who give it their all.

But don’t go expecting to see a copy of the 2002 Oscar-winning movie.  The plot line has been around for a long time – the story was first told in a silent movie 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.

Vaudeville performer Velma Kelly murders the other half of her sister act and ends up in jail.  Then Roxie Hart kills her illicit lover when he tries to leave her, and joins Velma in murderess’s row in the Chicago jail, wards of Matron “Mama” Morton.  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 Amos Hart raises 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.

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 longest running American musical on Broadway.

In 2002, the movie-musical was released starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  The plot was altered slightly for the movie and a few songs were dropped.  There is one fascinating plot twist that isn’t in the movie, which makes the stage show so much better. I’m not going to tell you what it is; you’ll need to see the show for yourself.Chicago HCP

Jodi McFadden is excellent as Velma.  A Broadway performer, she has come home to Canada to take this role.  She has the added experience of being in the movie Chicago.  She delivers, both as a dancer and singer, particularly in the opening number “All That Jazz”.

Drayton favourite Jayme Armstrong is an adorable Roxie, a role where she makes good use of her sweet and lispy little girl voice.  Armstrong reveals all Roxie’s dreams in the song “Roxie”.

Valerie Boyle is perfect as Mama Morton; in fact, she owns the stage whenever she’s on it.  Her amazing career and wide experience in theatre is obvious.  Boyle was Mrs. Brill, the housekeeper in Mary Poppins, both on Broadway and in Toronto.  But for the role of Mama Morton, she calls on her experience performing as Sophie Tucker – brash, cheeky, yet charming.

R.Markus portrays reporter Mary Sunshine, singing in a rich, full soprano voice. Geoffrey Whynot fully captures the hapless Amos Hart, making the song “Mr. Cellophane” both sad and funny. Dean Hollin is smooth as lawyer Billy Flynn, crooning the song “All I Care About”.

The rest of the cast is top-notch.  The Fosse style dance is well-executed, and singing voices are all in good form.  Credit goes to director/choreographer Mike Jackson for putting this big Broadway-style production together.  The influence of the Broadway production in which he performed is evident, and he makes the most of his cast.  Music Director Jeannie Wyse has captured that exciting roaring twenties sound.

The set is minimalist – cells for the “Cell Block Tango”, which are then used for everything else.  Costumes are also minimalist – in fact, everyone is rather scantily clad in basic black.

Take advantage of having this Broadway-style production right here in Grand Bend.  Chicago has it all:  great singing and dancing, a fascinating story of female murderers, and a fun little surprise at the end. Jazz, liquor, and sexy costumes – what more could you want?

Chicago continues with eight shows a week until July 18 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com

Photo: Jodi McFadden, Velma Kelly and Company in Chicago.  Photo by Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Chicago
Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed & Choreographed by Mike Jackson
Musical Direction by Jeannie Wyse
Performed by Jodi McFadden, Jayme Armstrong, Valerie Boyle, Geoffrey Whynot, R. Markus, Dean Hollin, et al.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 2 to 18, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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