|All That Jazz! Joanna Nash as Velma Kelly, photographed by Christopher Thomas Photography|
Savoyards are razzle dazzling audiences with their new production of Chicago. Directed by Sherryl-Lee Secomb and with musical direction by Benjamin Tubb-Hearne, the production features a cast of over 40 incredibly talented local performers as well as a live orchestra, playing onstage as the action unfolds.
|Nowadays – Joanna Nash as Velma Kelly and Heidi Enchelmaier as Roxie Hart, photographed by Christopher Thomas Photography.|
In the roaring twenties, Chicago, Roxie Hart murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap… until he finds out the truth and turns on Roxie. Convicted and sent to death row, Roxie and another “Merry Murderess” Velma Kelly, vie for the spotlight and the headlines, ultimately joining forces in search of the “American Dream”: fame, fortune, and acquittal.
I always loved the film adaptation of Chicago, starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger in the principal roles, but this was my first time seeing the musical onstage and the Savoyards cast were more than up to the challenge. This production – with script adaptation by David Thompson based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb – is a musical in the truest sense, with minimal dialogue between songs especially in Act I and the live orchestra performed the score beautifully.
Joanna Nash seized the stage from her first song, with a powerful voice and electric, expressive personality, as vaudevillian murderess Velma Kelly. Her vivacity and cynicism were perfectly balanced against Heidi Enchelmaier’s starry-eyed Roxie Hart, whose manipulative naiveté fuels her delusions of grandeur and dreams of vaudeville fame. There was fantastic tension between the two of them as the power balance shifted in the media and within the walls of the jail, and both actresses displayed a wide range of emotional capabilities in their roles.
|Joshua Moore as Billy Flynn, photographed by Christopher Thomas Photography|
Joshua Moore was slick and flashy as a fresh-faced Billy Flynn, with some incredible sustained notes in his performance, and Danika Seal brought a strong voice in both song and character to the role of sardonic jail warden Mama Morton. Rod Jones was lovable as Roxie’s hapless husband Amos and his rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’ really tugged at the heartstrings. Kyle Fenwick played “sob sister” reporter Mary Sunshine, singing in falsetto until the big reveal in the courtroom. This confused me initially, having never seen the musical, but after a quick Google search it seems that Mary Sunshine is often played by a man in drag, a remnant from Chicago’s vaudeville roots and a further nod to all not being what it appears in the trials, and subsequent media coverage, of these pretty young murderesses.
The entire Savoyards cast were very professional and able to roll with the punches (in some cases, literally!). In another case, a headband malfunctioned but the dancer completed her choreography without fixing it, despite the fact that it must have been obscuring her vision. Cast members with speaking roles also managed to wrangle the American accents with consistency.
|Both Reached for the Gun, photographed by Christopher Thomas Photography|
Choreography by Desney Toia-Sinapati (and Assistant Choreographer Melanie Southall) was outstanding, combining Fosse’s signature style – e.g. small movements with big impact, using breath as percussion – with cabaret and Broadway style. Scarves and chairs were used as props, and the canon work throughout the entire musical was excellent. ‘Both Reached for The Gun’ was an absolute highlight for me, a brilliantly choreographed crowd scene without obscuring the main action, and the tiered puppetry was so effective. The staging of the courtroom drama was also thrilling to watch, especially the playing out of Roxie’s testimony as she described it.
|‘My Baby and Me’ – the cast of Savoyards’ Chicago, photographed by Christopher Thomas Photography|
A single set was used throughout the musical, including the orchestra pit raised above the onstage action, and the performers frequently descended to interact with the audience. Lighting design by Allan Nutley transformed the stage from jail to courtroom to three-ring circus and all the way back again. Some microphone and sound issues were ongoing throughout the performance, but again the performers managed this with a high level of professionalism.
Savoyard’s production of Chicago combines all the glitz and glamour of the roaring 20s with cynical and sarcastic humour, topped off with an incredible display of talent from the Brisbane theatre community. You’ll have the songs stuck in your head for days afterwards!
For ticketing and further information, visit the Savoyards website.