An Extraordinary Tale of Murder and Mayhem and All That Jazz
Chicago Musical – A Review by MaryD
1920s, Chicago. Cook County Jail is home to a bawdy band of murderesses, all of whom have eradicated their quickly insignificant others. Chanteuses Velma Kelly (Lucy Lawless) and Roxie Hart (Amanda Billing) have both acquired a spot on Death Row. Velma enlists the help of prison matron Mama Morton (Colleen Davis) and smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Shane Cortese) to turn her incarceration into a media frenzy. But, not one to rest on her laurels, Roxie comes up with a foxy plan to steal back the limelight and, instead of wrangling the law, the two divas find themselves fighting the ultimate battle - the race to superstardom.
Velma Kelly - Lucy Lawless
Roxie Hart - Amanda Billing
Amos - Andrew Grainger
Billy Flynn - Shane Cortese
Mama Morton - Colleen Davis
Narrator/Little Mary Sunshine - Sandra Rasmussen
Chorus - Will Barling, Stephen Butterworth, Mike Edward, Rebekkah Schoonbeek, Sia Trokenheim, Hannah Tasker-Poland, Lavinia Uhila
Director - Michael Hurst
Musical Director - John Gibson
Set Designer - John Harding
Costume Designer - Lesley Burkes-Harding
Lighting Design - Sean Lynch
Stage Manager - Chelsea Adams
Set Construction - 2construct
Well I’m stunned. I was at the show on Saturday and Sunday nights and I still am stunned but I did promise a review so this it. The following review may contain MINOR spoilers as I don’t want to ruin the surprise for those who will see the show.
I won’t go into the technical aspects of the show; I’m not able to talk about that as I have no idea what I’m talking about. Nor go into depth about the show and compare it to the original version as I’ve never seen the original version or the movie. I was a Chicago The Musical virgin.
What you will get is a fresh look at Chicago through the eyes of a newbie and a Lucy fan. Lucy is the reason I’m here so it’s only fitting I start with her.
The choreography is impressive; the direction genius. Michael Hurst has been one of my favourite directors and he doesn’t disappoint here. He truly knows his craft. This isn’t your typical Chicago (although for me I’m going to judge any other version I see up against this one as this was my first).
Watching Lucy perform on television is a treat; watching her live is extraordinary (you will get a few extraordinaries as I run out of superlatives for this review)
Lucy’s Velma Kelly is a special role. Lucy takes this character and makes it her own; Velma is vulnerable, sassy, a bit comedic, ballsy and sexy. A bad girl hiding a very scared woman.
Where to start, where to start – All That Jazz. Lucy opens the first of the songs. Lucy’s voice is powerful and her stage presence is very pronounced; yes she is the first one there soon joined by the rest of the dancers but she exudes power. I really can’t put this into words other than to say; you know she is there. There is something about watching Lucy live; I’m not quite sure what it is (and I should know after watching this woman perform / act for the last 17 years. She has IT. That star quality that exudes from every pore – she just has that THING. The sight of her as the spotlight is trained on her is electrifying. The choreography is outstanding in this number and all the other numbers.
Amanda Billing has an amazing voice and is very watchable. Her collaboration with Lucy as Velma Kelly has created a dynamic duo that brings this show together and allows both characters to explore and eventually find their redemption.
The cast are masters of their craft and the dancing is extraordinary. The aforementioned choreography has you riveted and unable to choose what to see and who to see next. You can’t take it all in. You do need to see this show more than once (if you can).
For those wondering how close the stage is to the cast, let me tell you that it’s CLOSE. I’m about a meter or so away from them when I was sitting in Block A and then in Block D front row seats. It’s so close that I heard Andrew Grainger’s (Amos) shoes squeak as he walked around the stage. Now that is close! There are no bad seats. The cast move about and not fixed in one location.
Tonight I almost had Mike Edward in my lap as he came to screeching halt at the edge of the stage with his blow up doll. When I read this back it reads so dry but honestly it is the funniest thing. Mike had issues with the doll that deflated in the middle of a number and I just couldn’t stop laughing at the look on his face. Priceless. Mike played Segofax on Spartacus and let’s just say he is an astonishing dancer.
I was impressed with all the cast; everyone is such a huge talent. I was in awe of their abilities.
Mama Morton (played by Colleen Davis) who I met today and what a lovely lady! Very gracious. Her Mama will surprise you and there are moments on Saturday when my mouth dropped open in shock. What a voice and what a great Mama Morton!
Hannah Tasker-Poland (Hannah is the women with the gun on the Chicago posters). Also met her tonight and she is such a warm and very kind woman. A beautiful soul with an incredible talent. How she does what she does, I find an amazing feat.
Mike Edward – Mike plays several roles (most of the chorus taken on different roles at times). He is also Fred Casely, the man Roxie shoots dead that lands her in jail. I adore watching Mike – well built, great dancer and singer. A very talented man with a physique of a Greek God. As I mentioned above we almost had a close encounter of the lap kind (he was that close).
Shane Cortese as the sleazy Billy Flynn. The last time I saw Shane was in 2009 during the Starship Supernova so the man can sing. His Billy is amazing! Takes sleazy to a whole new level.
I have fallen in love with the character of Amos Hart played by Andrew Grainger, Roxie’s long suffering husband. Of all the murderers, thieves, sleazy lawyers and vultures of the press, one character is an innocent. That is Amos. My heart went out to the man who is not like any other in the show. His performance of Mr. Cellophane is heartbreaking. The audience simply loves him.
One other moment that stood out for me was the Hungarian prisoner; I just couldn’t bear to watch one scene. There was something so real about it that it made me want to divert my eyes. On Saturday night Mama Morton blocked me in seeing it but tonight I had an unobstructed view, which I didn’t want. A very shocking scene.
A couple of warnings: If you an epileptic there is a moment when the lights go bezerk and that might affect you. It doesn’t last long.
If you think the warnings about it being an adult show is just for show; it’s not. It really is very adult in nature. NO KIDS.
This show will shock you, it will make you laugh, it will cause you to raise an eyebrow or two.
Go buy a ticket, if you can make the trip to New Zealand. You won’t be disappointed.
*Photos courtesy of Auckland Theatre Company