The Kings of Wessex Academy 2017 Chicago
21st February, 2017 by Jude Owens
The opening lines of The Kings of Wessex Academy's 2017 production of the musical "Chicago" had the thrilling tease of a circus (roll up, roll up). A circus of human beings at their most decadent and deadly in 1920's Chicago.
Stylised dancers strutted and sparkled. A shrug of the shoulders, a hiss like a cat; this lively and action-packed performance had the audience on the edge of their seats.
Heroine no. 1 Roxie (Imogen Low/ Katie Postins) sang to her devoted husband Amos (Tristan Greene/Libby Rose) "a song of love and devotion" that quickly turned nasty - "that scummy, crubby, dubby hubby of mine." Dapper, yet downcast in his suit and yellow bow tie, Amos's later "Mr Cellophane" number ("they look right through me") had the audience both hooting and ahhhing.
The Cell Block Tango scene with the jailbirds' matching bright red lippy, flapper dresses and tales of blood-curdling murder was utterly shocking. "He had it coming..." No shortage of characters seeking the limelight. Even in prison. Mama Morton (Sofia Glover/Kaia Hickson) towered over the girls in her staggeringly high shoes preaching r-e-c-i-p-r-o-c-i-t-y. Power games that pay her, in other words.
Bad boy lawyer Billy Flynn (Conrad Morris), "the silver-tongued prince of the courtroom" had his fluttering fans. A suave smoothie in his green satin-backed waistcoat and suit and slicked back hair, he looked a million dollars. Literally, when you knew his fee. In this murky world of murder, opera spouting Mary Sunshine (Alex McLaren) provided much-needed comic and human relief as she "tries to find a little bit of good in everyone." She being a he, we later discovered.
The ever-present pack of reporters clamoured for a story (no change there, then!). In one of the most brilliantly sequenced scenes (amongst many) was Roxie perched on Billy Flynn's knee at the press conference. To control her answers, she was his ventriloquist's dummy. Fast frenzied music and the reporters were soon brainwashed and chanting Roxie's best (false) line of defence: "they both reached for the gun."
And so to the music. Closing my eyes I could have been in a jazz club. The band put on such a splendid, swanky performance it carried the story and action along at a finger-clicking feverish pace.
Hot headed Heroine no. 2 Velma Kelly (Freya Perrins/Lauren Tait) spied a rival in Roxie. Her act of desperation number appealing to Roxie to be her partner (if not in crime) in music was brilliant as she imitated instruments. Big strides to the drum roll and ending with the splits; her later duet with Roxie showed these daring divas at their finest.
The group sequences also stole the show with clever choreography, so that the stage was always a moving picture. In contrast, Katalin Hunyak's (Isobel Persaud/Oona Shah) ballet dance of a Hungarian rope trick performed to Tchaikovsky as a prelude to hanging for murder was exquisitely delicate and moving.
This ironic story of murder told to music could only conclude in the courts. The legal circus. Time for Billy Flynn to "razzle dazzle." Ever the slick showman. With drama and sequins aplenty, Roxie relived the shooting. Spoiler alert! Ok, she gets off.
Special thanks to Director and Choreographer Grace Macdonald and Musical Director Sarah Righton for this spectacular show that left the audience suitably razzled and dazzled. Cue more music and dancing.