Review: CHICAGO

by Lynn on June 13, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Oct. 30. www.stratfordfest.

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse

Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins

Script adaptation by David Thompson

Director/choreographer, Donna Feore

Musical director, Franklin Brasz

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Cast: Eric Abel

Gabriel Antonacci

Robert Ball

Devon Michael Brown

Sandra Caldwell

Celeste Catena

Dan Chameroy

Amanda De Freitas

Henry Firmston

Bonnie Jordan

Heather Kosik

Bethany Kovarik

Amanda Lundgren

Jordan Mah

Chad McFadden

R. Markus

Stephen Patterson

Chelsea Preston

Jennifer Rider-Shaw

Steve Ross

Philip Seguin

Plus other dancers/singers

A rousing, raucous Chicago to welcome us back to the theatre, heavy on exuberance and speed, light on depth, nuance and realizing the cynicism of the piece.

The Story. This is Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s 1975 story of murder, mayhem and cynicism of a group of murderesses in Chicago in 1928 who were in jail for their crimes. Roxie Hart killed her boyfriend Fred Casely because he was going to walk out on her. She shot him and then convinced her hapless, but devoted husband, Amos, to take the blame. Amos was told by Roxie that the guy was a burglar, until he learned the truth. Velma Kelly did a vaudeville act with her sister until she found her sister in bed with her husband, so Velma killed both her sister and her cheating husband. Both Roxie and Velma engage slick-lawyer Billy Flynn to take their cases (separately). Billy Flynn knew every angle on milking and turning the press to his/his client’s advantage. Roxie was wilier and more street smart than Velma.

The Production and comment. The usual first line of Chicago is “Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a story of greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts.” But in David Thompson’s adaptation something new is afoot. The line now begins, “Ladies, Gentlemen, Everyone….”  indicating that in this enlightened world gender fluidity is acknowledged with “Everyone.”

Now that we are back in the Festival Theatre with its thrust stage, after an absence of two long years, director/choreographer Donna Feore has taken the rare opportunity to re-imagine Chicago. This means that one is not locked into re-producing Bob Fosse’s original and very distinctive choreography, with its hip thrusts, slinky sexiness and drop-dead cynicism of that dark time. It means that one does not have to go deep into the story to realize the nuance, subtleties, cynicism, greed, immorality, exploitation and all the darkness of the original because that is not the intention of this production. The intention of Donna Feore’s raucous, fast and furiously danced production is to have a good time, and certainly everybody in that boisterous opening night audience did that to the hilt. Feore’s choreography goes at break-neck speed and her dancers give their all, smiling, no matter how dastardly their characters, gyrate, high-kick, flip and fly through the air, leaving everybody, including the audience, breathless and smiling. If one doesn’t pay too much attention to the joyfully smiling singer-actor and the cynicism of the lyrics they are singing, one won’t find too much of a disconnect in this superficial production.

The Stratford Festival production of Chicago is light on depth and heavy on exuberance. Many of the performances of the minor characters are like cartoon characters, over-played, and ‘big’. While Roxie Hart (Chelsea Preston) and Velma Kelly (Jennifer Rider-Shaw) are two separate characters with Roxie being more calculating than Velma among other aspects, I found that aside from different coloured wigs, it was hard telling Roxie from Velma on the basis of performance. Both Chelsea Preston as Roxie and Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Velma are good dancer-singers, but there was little in the way of differentiating between the two of them. As I said, realizing the depth of character was not the point. Pure entertainment was the point.

There are two exceptions to this thought: Steve Ross as Amos Hart (Roxie’s hapless husband) and Dan Chameroy, the silver-tongued Billy Flynn, the lawyer with all the angles for manipulation. Steve Ross as Amos gives the most sublime, subtle performance of a man who loves his wife to bits, but is ignored and forgotten by her and mostly everybody he meets. He’s a loving, decent but simple man and it’s easy to take advantage of him. Ross is deeply moving when he sings “Mister Cellophane”, explaining how people “look right through” him and don’t remember his name. It’s a performance of detail, thought and a beating heart.

Dan Chameroy as Billy Flynn has the easy movement of a man in total control. He’s got flash and pizazz and is totally compelling. He knows how to keep his clients guessing and desperate, and everybody else unbalanced.  Flynn embodies the song “Razzle Dazzle” in which the flash and pizazz overpower the reality that it’s all fakery:

Give ’em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle ’em
Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous

Row after row will crow vociferous

Give ’em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture ’em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?

Interestingly, Dan Chameroy as Billy Flynn sings that song realizing all the smarts and depth of it. Two beautiful performances from Steve Ross and Dan Chameroy.

Donna Feore’s superficial production of Chicago is a rousing way to welcome an eager, willing audience back into the theatre to cheer and roar, no matter what.

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Plays until: Oct. 30, 2022

Running Time: approx. 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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