first night

Chicago

Felicity McDowall has an evening full of razzle dazzle with HBT's production of 'Chicago'

Sexy, sensual and provocative with lots of razzle dazzle encapsulates Hild Bede Theatre’s production of the classic 1920s musical ‘Chicago’. It follows the lives of two ‘criminal celebrities’ Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart as they try to hold onto fame whilst simultaneously obtaining their freedom.  ‘Chicago’ is my favourite musical so I relished the opportunity to abandon Wednesday Night Loveshack in order to see it in Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall. This is only the second university company in the UK to have performed ‘Chicago’ since it left the West End, which made it even more exciting to see. I had high expectations and these were certainly met. It was executed for the most part smoothly although there were some first night awkward pauses in places and initial mike trouble.

The director (Michael Mclauchlan) aimed to “highlight the comedic elements in the original script” and this was definitely achieved. The audience were very receptive to the more comedic moments of the play and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Some of the comedic highlights include Harry Adair’s wonderful characterization of Amos, Roxie’s long suffering husband. Adair plays the sappy, besotted and invisible lover skilfully taking the character to its comedic capacity. The trial scene also highlights the humorous element of the musical as Roxie acts out her version of events in an overdramatized style with Amos and Fred Casely (Edward Wheatley), much to the amusement of the audience.

The choreography directed by Catherine Wyatt and Katie Petty played a pivotal role in this musical, as its strongest component, many scenes relied on the choreography to inject some animation in them. The dances were mostly in time and were reminiscent of the 1920s taking the audience back to the exciting prohibition age. Supported by the fantastic band directed by Jack Moreton who also joined in narrating the scenes from a gap in the curtain.

The best moment of the musical was the rousing rendition of ‘The Cell Block Tango’ in which the dancers were towards the back of the stage on a raised platform behind individual jail bars cast in red lighting whilst the six merry murderesses each had their own spotlight and chair. Another highlight was the ventriloquist scene in which Roxie relates her story to the press and everyone acts like puppets controlled by Billy Flynn (Michael Yates) again the choreography in this scene was exceptional and combined with the cast’s facial expressions added an extra element of humour to it.

The vocals were also very strong throughout the production, although Mary Sunshine’s (Clara Duncan) solo was almost lost due to the positioning of her mike on her chest rather than on her forehead. There were many excellent renditions of the musical’s famous songs but one of my favourite duets was ‘Class’ between Velma Kelly (Eliza Cummings-Cove) and Matron Mama Morton (Lily Drake) as their beautiful singing created an effective juxtaposition to their rather crude lyrics.

The staging and set was also expertly executed as the space in the Caedmon hall was all utilized to its potential. On the main stage there was a raised platform at the back with steps up the centre and there was a miniature platform at the front of the stage generally acting as Billy Flynn’s office allowing the cast to enter through the centre aisle of the audience. Split staging was also used throughout which added an extra element to the musical as the transitions between the two opposing scenes were always seamless and again ensured the space was used to the production’s advantage.

The stand out performances came from Harry Adair who played Amos brilliantly yet effortlessly and Lydia Feerick whose vocals, dancing and acting were faultless as the fiercely determined Roxie Hart, although at times her fiery ambition bordered on petulance.  Michael Yates as Billy Flynn started off untidily with his shirt hanging out of his trousers but as the musical progressed he really captured the suave lawyer persona.  However, Lily Drake as Matron Mama Morton tended to over exaggerate with her hand constantly placed on her hip in a rather camp pose speaking/singing out of the corner of her mouth. Also, Eliza Cummings-Cove although initially rather subdued and lost at times played a wonderful Velma Kelly and was one of the strongest vocalists in the entire cast.

In terms of costume the musical certainly delivered the typical assortment of underwear-like skimpy outfits and an explosion of fishnets for the women. Whilst the men wore simple black shirts and trousers enabling some of them to efficiently play multiple characters.

Overall I was very impressed with the standard of dancing, singing and acting which always makes for a good combination in a musical. This was a truly ambitious and fantastic production full of vaudeville splendour, jazz and prohibition pizzazz.

27 February 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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