Review by Danny Gaisin
We watched the 2002 movie version of the Kander & Ebb musical for one reason only, it was shot in Toronto using the Distillery District, City Hall; Casa Loma ; Osgoode & Canada Life among others. As for the Gere/Zellweger/Zeta-Jones performances, we thought that they were not only two-dimentional, but it wasn’t just the singing that was dubbed – so was their portrayals. Last night we saw Theatre Ancaster’s version and had decided , even by intermission that this is a surefire O.A.R. ‘Top Ten for this year!
Everything about ‘Chicago’ is first rate…the direction; the stage method; the cutaways; costuming and especially the faultless chorus numbers that are an intrinsic part of the show.
Helming this major undertaking is Al Croxall and he’s obviously been meticulous. From cast selection, to pace, to rehearsing, this effort is about as professional as it gets. The clever usage of projected Powerpoint displays headlines as well as setting the scene locales. Theatre Ancaster has certainly raised the ‘supposed’ bar that catagorizes community theatre as second-rate. Even the support cast contribute full measure and in a few cases, should be considered as pivotal.
The plot deals with all the good stuff :- murder; infidelity; dishonesty; immorality; legal shenanigans and the media. The latter almost defines Trump’s claim about ‘False News’, (except of course, in this specific paper!). Two women kill their lovers and thus are arrested & charged. A successful but sleazy lawyer, recommended by the head jailer, takes on their defences. The lyrics are clever and in many cases include irony. The song ‘He had it coming’ re-defines the term ‘fooling around’. As opposed to FOOLING AROUND which is fooling around – but without dinner!
Velma Kelly is the somewhat ‘Sally Bowes’ character made famous by Liza Minelli (Cabaret). She too is pert, defiant, and determined. Angela Broadley is a quintuple threat: – she’s acrobatic; certainly can sing; dances; acts and has the timing & emphasis that is the stereotype of an improv. comedienne. Every expression conveys a message or feeling. Her counterpart is Stevie Pike’s ‘Roxie’ and she’s a definitive vamp. Her Marilyn M. looks and exaggerated mannerisms make her a focal point every minute that she’s on stage. Her vocal phrasing seems to reflect advanced training and experience. Even her occasional over-the-shoulder looks pack a wallop. Hopefully, the theatre will bring both these ladies back in future stage offerings.
The ‘bottom-feeder’ is portrayed by Colin Lapsley and his Billy Flynn milks every scintilla of funny-greed out of each lyric or comment. Possessing a superb tenor voice, he can carry a note long enough as to glean immediate audience applause. Lapsley utilizes body language and posturing to full advantage and it’s impossible not to love his distasteful character. These three are strongly supported by Tracy Cain, who like Queen Latifa in the movie, steals scenes, and Jamie Taylor, whose role as Roxie’s husband is a nebbish, and thus the character with whom this scribe most identifies. He too, has the lungs for an incredible note-carry. His solo aria – Mr. Cellophane’ resounds… but quietly. Both the male roles have funny interactions with maestro Roger Girard who leads the thirteen musicians who visibly perform from stage-rear. Girard shows his hammy side – when not swing a baton; he’s polishing his ‘gat’. Audiences will be amazed at the ‘Cirque de Soleil-ish manifestations of Laura Rietmuller on both the pole and hula hoop. To describe more of her on-stage moments would be a ‘spoiler’.
The costumes are sexy, revealing and representative of that era. The choreography, originally by Fosse has been updated by Ancaster Theatre’s Tina Rath, which even subtly alludes to the Charleston or jitterbug. Lighting, sound and projection are faultless as are the entry/exit moments stage managed by Bob Carle.
Given the number of events we cover over a year, seeing something more than once seems redundant. We did so at this year’s Toronto Fringe, yet would seriously consider another invite to enjoy “CHICAGO” again before it closes on Dec. 1st. This is a MUST SEE theatrical opportunity.
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