Highlights of hope

Oliver! (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

18 June – 2 July 

A lot of Savoyard’s production of the musical “Oliver!” happens in the shadows; the dark and dramatic visit to Victorian London’s murky underworld begins with its cast of downtrodden workhouse orphans marching from the stalls onto the stage in want of food, glorious food and it does not shy away from the story’s gritty violence. Yet the reimagining ultimately shines a light on just how timeless the musical is, particularly in terms of its brilliant score, which is full of favourite numbers.

Based on the Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “Oliver Twist”, the musical is a story about holding onto hope in the darkest of times in its tell of the story of the young orphan, Oliver, and his struggles against the, often cruel world within which he lives. After daring to ask for more food at the workhouse where he is lodged, he is sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker before escaping to London where he finds himself accepted by a bunch of thieves and pickpockets, led by the elderly Fagin. Unsuited to a life of crime Oliver soon discovers that leaving Fagin’s gang and starting anew won’t be so easy.

With a multi-generational cast of over 50 performers, the show features an abundance of talent. Jeremiah Rees is wonderful as opening night’s eponymous hero, ethereally good-natured in juxtaposition to the squalor of his environment, but also plucky with moral determination. His pure, angelic voice epitomises his innocence, as evidenced in his main ballad, ‘Where is Love’ in which he longs for love and the mother he never knew.

Under David Harrison’s artistic direction, the production is layered with vivid characterisations. Warryn James is well-cast as Fagin. His performance is compelling in its energy and humour as he plays games and jokes with his pickpocketing students, often through song. Priyah Shah is also a standout in the range she brings to the kindly character of Nancy, member of Fagin’s gang and sympathetic lover of the sinister antagonist Bill Sikes (Raymond Gillmore). Her lead of Act Two’s opener ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, makes the rollicking old tavern song infectious to us as much as the boisterous low-life ruffian customers on stage in a “Les Miserables” ‘Master of the House’ type way. Her strong vocals are no better seen than in Nancy’s torch song, the powerfully despairing ‘As Long as He Needs Me’, in which she attempts to convince herself of Bill’s love, leaving the audience spellbound. Indeed, her shows of strength but also vulnerability ensure that Nancy is presented as a complex character to be considered beneath the veneer of her defence of brutal Bill’s abuse.

Oliver Dobrenov gives us a charismatic, cockney child-gang leader, Artful Dodger, confidently leading many ensemble numbers and Rod Jones and Phillipa Bowe are gloriously hyperbolic in their early show play off each other as the self-important beadle of the poorhouse where the orphaned Oliver is raised and the sharp-tongued widow Mrs Corney, especially in their saucy interplay into ‘I Shall Scream’.

The show is filled with harmonious chorus numbers. The communal ‘Consider Yourself’ when the ensemble assembles together, is a glorious highlight. Unfortunately, ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ when Oliver is introduced to Fagin and his boys falls comparatively short on Opening Night, courtesy only of significant microphone issues that plague things from Fagin’s entrance. James does well to not only work through the ongoing crackles and static, but persevere without amplification amongst a sea of other voices, which detracts from the animation of his triumphant recall of successfully executed crimes.  

Under Jacqueline Atherton’s considered musical direction, a lively orchestra advances the plot with songs and underscoring, utilising a range of melodies to represent the different characters, as well as reminding us of the virtues of the musical’s most-known tunes. Kim Heslewood and team’s costume design adds texture and movement alike, from the colourful toff pop of the Artful Dodger’s jacket to the petticoat ruffles of dancer dresses, while Lynne Swain’s makeup design contributes much to the gothic sensibility of early scenes, particularly those featuring the Tim Burtonesque funeral owners, Mr and Mrs Sowerberry (David Harrison and Hannah Davies). Carlie McEachern’s lively choreography includes its own detailed highlights, such as in the chimney sweep moves within an Act Two ensemble number and Sherryl-Lee Secomb’s set design makes good use of the space, allowing for locations to pop open from within its facades.

This is an excellent musical revival, full of highlights and everything needed to entertain its audience, including nod to the melodramatic imagery and rhetoric that characterised the Victorian stage of its setting. While finding the drama with the text means including its depictions of domestic violence and alike, this is handled well, making it still suitable for younger audience members, after some pre-emptive conversations. Social satire aside, however, what is most resonate about this “Oliver!” is its theme of resilience and hope that things will get better, which makes it at-once inherently British in its sensibility but also universal in its ultimate impact.

Photos c/o – Sharyn Hall

Feeding fine

Little Shop of Horrors (Savoyards)

Wynnum State High School, Star Theatre

March 5 – 12

The audience comfort of the Star Theatre is contrasted immediately from the start of Savoyard’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors’ which opens to the downtown urbanscape of a skid row as a trio of 1960s street urchins named Crystal (Rhea Basha), Ronette (Manuao Madar), and Chiffon (Storm Fraser) set the scene with ‘Prologue (Little Shop of Horrors’) and take us into the failing business that is Mushnik’s Flower Shop, run (and run down) by the cranky, no-nonsense Mr Mushnik (Kym Brown).

Desperate in desire to find a pathway out of Skid Row, downtrodden orphan botanist Seymour Krelborn (Chris Drummond) is working as an assistant in the flower shop and dreaming of a better life with his thus-far-unrequited love, beautiful co-worker Audrey (Amanda Harris), who is, instead, dating the abusive dentist Orin Scrivello (Jackson Wecker). When Seymour happens upon a weird strange and interesting unidentified plant (which he affectionately names Audrey II), his fortunes change from zero to hero, but at a cost, for an ambitious Audrey II is out for blood, literally, growing in stature, confidence, voice and demanding corruption of her gardener.  

Like a Greek/musical theatre chorus of sorts, the urchins feature throughout the sci-fi horror musical, functioning as participants in the action and as doo-wop chorus girls outside it. And their voices blend beautifully together in some delicious harmonies such as in Act Two’s ‘The Meek Shall Inherit’, in which Seymour grapples with his moral responsibility for the tragedies that have unfolded thus far. Together they effectively recreate the stylistic vocal quirks of female soul trios, with Basha, in particular, showcasing a standout voice. Their complement of each other also serves as perfect vehicle for the soundtrack’s melodies, which draw inspiration from its 1960s roots.

Alan Menken’s musical composition touches on rock and roll, doo-wop and even Motown and under Hayley Marsh’s musical direction, the orchestra rises to every challenge of its eclecticism, including showing splendid restraint in the often overly-earnest ballad ‘Suddenly Seymour’, which sees Audrey and Seymour admitting their feelings for one another. It is wonderful that the show’s light and shade pacing allows for this appreciation and, similarly, Harris’ lovely vocals in her vulnerable ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ covert of a suburban life.

Savoyards seasons are always filled with an interesting assortment of shows and 2022’s line-up continues in this tradition. “Little Shop of Horrors” is a delightful season opener, full of light-hearted fun with a spot of carnivorous violence softened by catchy songs. Howard Ashman’s book and lyric, provide lots of memorable lines, such as within Act One’s pun-packed ‘Dentist’. And Seymour and Audrey II’s ‘Feed Me (Git It)’ is a certainly a seduction song with a difference with attempted plant justification and protagonist give-in to base instincts.

Drummond brings an everyman sensibility to the initially reluctant hero Seymour, however, the real star of the show is Audrey II, voiced by Lonnie Toia. Increasingly sassy in his requests for food, beyond just the show’s iconic demand, he wise cracks through his villainy as his physical realisation is accomplished by a series of ever-bigger puppets (puppet design by Jess Ferguson). And his singing voice is vibrant, soulful and full of allure.

Despite its sinister subject matter, “Little Shop of Horrors” is a fine show filled with lots of fun humour. Indeed, the cult tale’s blend of dark comedy and great music make it one worth catching. While opening night sees the occasional missed lighting mark and microphone lapse, there are also many memorable moments from, in particular, within Ethan Houley’s lighting design, which takes us on a gorgeous journey from the close of a now-busy day’s trade into the morning after the Audrey II’s carnage has continued. The show’s playful vibe and concise 2 hours 15 minute run time (including one 20-minute interval) make it an attractive as well as unique, blend of murder and sincere romance, with a sneaky side lesson about the greed for celebrity.

Musical fandom fun

The Drowsy Chaperone (Savoyards)

Wynnum State High School, Star Theatre

September 25 – October 9

The lonely Man in Chair (Brad Ashwood) who addresses the awaiting audience from the downed houselights start of “The Drowsy Chaperone” hates the theatre, especially long shows whose momentum is disrupted by pesky intervals and fourth wall breaks. We know this from the very first tongue-in-cheek words that come out of his mouth. Our earnest narrator of sorts, however, loves musicals, considering it a treat to disappear into them when feeling blue. This is especially the case when it comes to the decadent fictitious 1928 show “The Drowsy Chaperone”; even though he’s never seen it on stage, its rare two record cast recording is one of his favourites. It is natural, therefore, that he wants to share its joys and so as its first record crackles into an overture we find ourselves watching the show within a show unfold in the living room of the man’s dreary, accompanied by his animated commentary about its actors and characters, plot credibility and musical numbers. It’s all very meta in a marvellously exuberant and entertaining way.

The quirky Tony award winning musical’s title comes from one of cast of characters gathered for a prohibition-era wedding, introduced in the initial, rollicking number ‘Fancy Dress’. The carefree friend, confidante and chaperone (Vanessa Rainwright), whose drowsiness comes from drinking champagne, is always eager to steal spotlight from pampered Broadway starlet, Janet Van De Graff (Carly Wilson), who wants to give up showbiz to marry oil tycoon Robert Martin (Rhys Rice) at the fabulous Long Island estate of the aging and absent-minded Mrs Tottendale (Jacqui Cuny). And here-in lies the extent of the flimsy central conflict… the challenge of keeping the fiancées apart on their wedding day.

In the B plot, desperate Follies theatre producer, Feldzieg (Nathaniel Young) plots to sabotage the wedding plans through the introduction of wacky Latin lover Aldolpho (Christopher Thomas). It’s quite the line-up of two-dimensional characters brought to exaggerated life by the talented cast. There’s even an aviatrix (Vivien Wood) and jovial vaudevillian-style saboteur gangsters (Aaron Anderson and Astin Hammermeister) who double as pastry chefs in aim to ensure the wedding doesn’t occur so Follies will happen with Janet and be a financial success. Clearly anything can happen in the nonsensical storytelling of the Cole Porter sort being parodied.

Of the most over-the-top character appearances amongst the madcappery, it is Thomas who commands our attention as Aldolpho storming on stage to tango ‘I Am Aldolpho’, clearly relishing his every hammy moment as the faded Latino lover. Rice is also particularly noteworthy in his perfectly-embellished performance as the fabulously debonair bridegroom Robert, a self-confessed ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’. And Katilyn Burton brings a lot of laughs to the archetypal ditzy blonde role of useless chorus girl Kitty, who hopes to take Janet’s place in Follies, especially in Kitty’s clueless mind reading act revelation to Feldzieg as to his feelings towards her.

It is Ashwood, however, who anchors the show as the gentle, but giddily-gleeful musical aficionado Man in Chair. Never-off-stage, his reactions as he sings and dances along with the stars, don’t distract us from the musical’s action yet maintain our attention all the same as he wryly comments on the music, story and actors. And while he is at his best when on stage in choreographic participation in Janet’s ‘Bride’s Lament’, he easily transitions to engendering our empathy in later more moving scenes that highlight the regret embedded within his nostalgia, giving the show an unexpected substance below the lively, irreverent silliness of its veneer.

The production is full of memorable vocal moments too. Wilson’s tremendous voice is particularly displayed in the big production number ‘Show Off’, in which her character feigns desire to step away from the spotlight, only to dazzle the audience with costume and key changes and other impressive on-stage feats. Wainwright, meanwhile, makes her response to Janet’s doubts as to whether Robert really loves her a self-aggrandising rousing anthem to alcoholism in ‘As We Stumble Along’.

The score features a range of musical styles, with Ben Tubb-Hearne’s musical direction and an on-point orchestra, capturing the 20’s jazz era character in numbers like ‘Cold Feet’. The elaborate tap dance routine from Martin and his bumbling best man, George (Andrew King) is a real showstopper, particularly when accented by Mrs Tottendale’s loyal manservant, Underling’s (Warryn James) delivery of two glasses of water mid-song. Jazz Age musicals are also tributed throughout in choreography (Natalie Lennox – Choreographer) with catchy rhythms and up-tempo dance numbers, including the Act One (not that the 90-minute show has an interval), big ensemble dance stunner ‘Tuledo Surprise’.

Appropriately for a musical-inside-a-comedy, the show’s comic timing is spot on, especially as ‘on-stage’ action is undermined by Man in Chair’s playback glitches and alike. It is a hilarious musical farce, full of accessible humour of all sorts to keep the audience entertained, from pastry puns to blindfolded roller skating and dancing monkeys, but no pirates. There are multiple moments of musical comedy parodies, including mistaken identities, dream sequences, spit takes and the titular character’s Grande Dame upstaging antics.

With book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is indeed a very clever gem of a show and, as the Man in Chair himself says, it does what a musical is supposed to do. Under Robbie Parkin’s direction, Savoyards’ production is full of humour and also considerable heart in its embodiment of the joy that can be found in art. And it is easy to appreciate why it is on so many people’s list of favourites. While it is certainly unique in its ode to lightweight 1920s musicals, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a masterful meta-musical for everyone who loves them, full of high-flying fun in its flirtation around all the tropes that characterise the genre.

Photos c/o – Sharyn Hall

Top tap talents

Hot Shoe Shuffle (Savoyards)

Wynnum State High School, Star Theatre

June 19 – July 3

If The Wiggles were tap dancers they might get confused with the cast of “Hot Shoe Shuffle” as the 1992 Australian jukebox musical begins with introduction to its feature of a few more Principal players, the seven Tap brothers, dressed in bold suits of block primary colours. It’s an introduction befitting the sensibility of the light-hearted crowd pleaser and one that fits with the staging of Savoyard’s production, which sees Wynnum State High School’s Star Theatre staged with animation style set pieces, with each corner and angle outlined by a thin black line to gift the effect of being in a cartoon.

The flimsy storyline tells of dancing brothers who are all named after tap moves: Spring (Reindert Toia), Slap (Andrew King), Buck (Clay English), Wing (Stewart Matthews), Tip (Simon Battersby), Tap (Michael Effenberger) and Slide (Chris Jordan), being told that they will obtain a significant inheritance from their late and long-absent father if they can reproduce his legendary act, “The Hot Shoe Shuffle”. Trouble arises when producer of sorts Max (Rob Emblen) reveals that they must also include their long-lost and quie outgoing sister, April (Natalie Lennox) in the act.

Light-weight as its story may be, however, David Atkins’ “Hot Shoe Shuffle” is an ambitious choice of show; the fast-paced musical requires a supremely talented cast and musical band, and in this regard, the production, presented in partnership with Bloch Australia, delivers in abundance, making for a toe-tapping good time for all. It really is all about the dancing, which includes incorporation of tricks with hats and canes, occasional slapstick and always-crisp footwork, from the after-overture opening number, Duke Ellington’s ‘The Rug Cutter’, in which the brothers tap in unison atop a large lawyer’s office table. It is not all big, bold numbers, however. Light and shade are afforded through Lennox’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ and her charming song and dance routine with Toia in ‘Shall We Dance’. And when they are joined by Emblen in ‘Name Up In Lights’, it is a joyful prelude to the showcase numbers that follow. Indeed, the nimble Emblen is a joy to behold whenever his feet fly across the stage. Not only is an accomplished dancer, but, along with Desney Toia-Sinapati, responsible for the show’s classic, high-energy choreography.

With no dedicated music score of its own, “Hot Shoe Shuffle” draws its setlist from a variety of sources all of which serve to showcase its dancing. Familiar big band songs from the ’20s to ’40s of the ‘In The Mood’ sort feature throughout and it is wonderful to see the band showcased on stage, especially during the show-within-the-show that occupies most of the second half. The highlight comes, however, as part of Act One’s ‘Fats Waller Medley’ in which ‘This Joint is Jumpin’ is enlivened with infectious brassy New Orleans jazz sounds to accompany the brothers’ mimed instrument playing.

The melodies of group numbers are often highlighted by beautifully-blended vocals, although occasionally, the combined sounds of all brothers tapping together wash over the top of vocals. Toia’s smooth voice is appropriately showcased in jaded eldest brother Spring’s soft shoe number ‘Song and Dance Man’ and while all performers have their moments, Chris Jordan, as the good humoured Slide is particularly impressive in a spinning Act Two solo.

There is a clear camaraderie amongst the cast, particularly the seven brothers, which accommodates the show’s easy humour of puns and lame pick-up lines, and also musical references of the ‘One The Town’ and Cole Porter sort. Similarly, Lennox’s embrace of the difficulty of April’s initial uncoordinated dance attempts is a key component, adding much to the show’s humour. And while the brothers are ‘Putting on the Ritz’ of their Act Two show in dapper suit and tails, Kim Heslewood’s versatile costume design allows Lennox to quick change without any compromise to the razzle dazzle of the showcase.

“Hot Shoe Shuffle” is a fan-tap-stic show and it is easy to appreciate its smash hit status across Australia and on London’s West End given its escapist whimsy and enormous energy (especially in latter numbers). The fact that it does not take itself too seriously, makes for an easy watch that you don’t have to think too much about, lest you might get caught up in its plot holes. If you like tap, even just a little bit, you must join in Savoyards 60th year celebrations and see this good old fashioned musical.

Photos c/o – Sharyn Hall

You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!

Oklahoma! (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

June 22 – July 6

Issues of modern sensibilities aside (this is, after all, a show in which a man buys himself a wife after another sells her), the pioneering “Oklahoma!” still has much to offer audiences 75 years after famed partners Rodgers and Hammerstein reinvented the American musical with its release as their first collaboration; the current reorchestrated Tony Award winning Broadway revival is evidence of this. Rather than stripping down the show to reveal the darker psychological truths at its core, Savoyards have, however, created a more light-hearted take on the tale, with emphasis on its comedy as colourful backdrop to the high-spirited rivalry between the local cowboys and farmers in the about to be brand new US state.

There is no compromise on the sumptuous musical score either and from the show’s grand overture glide through Rodgers’s memorable melodies we are reminded of its catchy eclecticism. The sweeping orchestrations make another overture-like appearance in a later dream sequence too, because for those who don’t know, at 3+ hours duration this is a marathon of a musical.

Oklahoma-5

Like most musicals, however, the plot is more of a framework to the score, rather than the show’s driving force. We see this from the opening number, ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’’, in which cowboy Curly McLain (Joshua Thia) optimistically shares his hope that everything’s goin’ his way. Curly is one of two rival suiters, the other being sinister pest of a farmhand Jud Fry (Kyle Fenwick) attempting to court beautiful farm girl Laurey Williams (Chloe Makiol). With a secondary romance concerning cowboy Will Parker (Tristan Vanyai) and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie Carbes (Gemma Hansom), there is much complication about which to sing on this romanticised Western Frontier. There is also a beautiful extended dream ballet number (featuring Jessica Boersen and Simon Lyell) in which Laurey reflects upon her struggle with her feelings about Curly and Jud.

Oklahoma-1.jpg

A vast stage and large ensemble cast mean that energetic numbers like Act Two’s opener after ‘Entr’acte’, ‘The Farmer and the Cowman’ where the rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys over fences and water rights leads to fighting, are vibrant highlights courtesy also of Natalie Lennox’s choreography. Indeed, choreography and costuming combine to create rousing “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” type effect in songs like the male ensemble’s ‘Kansas City’ about Will Parker’s trip to the modern city and the female ensemble’s ‘Many a New Day’ in which Laurey tells her friends that she doesn’t really care about Curly. Intimate numbers are not lost though, with Curly and Laurey’s ballad ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ and its reprise representing some of the soundtrack’s most beautiful moments.

Oklahoma-2.jpg

Thia is cheekily sincere as charismatic cowboy Curly and his voice is robust, while Makiol not only has the requisite sweetness needed for Laurey, but is vocally flawless. Hansom is a total delight as the sassy Ado Annie, the fun loving farm girl who struggles with her base instincts. Her ‘I Can’t Say No’ explanation of why she has been spending so much time with Persian Peddler Alik Hakim (Warryn James) while promised to Will, is an absolute highlight. Her playful, minxy comedy is on-point in her every on-stage appearance, her voice has an appealing sweetness and her comic timing is pure perfection. James’s Hakim is also hilarious thanks to his brilliant comedy, though at times it is difficult to clearly make out some of his dialogue and lyrics. Certainly, the comedy throughout the work, whether it by Persian good-byes or Oklahoma hellos and alike, gives this Savoyards production its essential character. Even the now-tricky ‘Pore Jud is Daid’ scene, in which Curly encounters Jud in his rundown dwelling, teasingly imagining his rival’s funeral (because ‘you never know how many people like you till you’re dead’) is lightened a lot compared to its handling in other productions.

Staging is effective in its relative simplicity. There are limited set changes which is appreciated during such a long show, with props to the side of stage cleverly becoming the finest carriage ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ (which you may also recognise as the song Billy Crystal karaokes to Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”) that Curly sings about in attempt to convince Laurey to go with him to the box social dance and a stunning silhouetted backdrop establishing the fields of corn ‘as high as an elephant’s eye’.

With so much on offer, “Oklahoma!” is perhaps a musical for those who don’t like musicals. In this realisation, it is its music (Musical Director Jacqueline Atherton) that really prevails thanks to the efforts of its excellent live orchestra. The celebration of its score and its distinctive Broadway sounds show that it’s still doin’ fine, for while its dark shadows and heavy fare sit somewhat uneasily in a contemporary context, its infectious music is its legacy.

All that razzle dazzle jazz

Chicago (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

September 29 – October 13

together.jpeg

Everyone knows six time Tony Award winning musical “Chicago”, if only from its 2002 movie. And it is little wonder; the Kander and Ebb classic has a score full of iconic, toe-tapping tunes in homage to the music of the 1920s. Its popularity is evident in Savoyard’s virtually sold-out season of the show prior even to its start. And after opening night, it is easy to appreciate why.

velma.jpeg

Firstly, the company allows the show, first and foremost, to be about its music. The marvellous elevated orchestra (Musical Director Benjamin Tubb-Hearne) not only takes centre stage visually but is wonderfully showcased in both the overture and finale of the spirited show. And from the moment they lead us from overture to ‘All That Jazz’, as vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Joanna Nash) welcomes us to mid-1920s Chicago with tell of how she murdered her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together, we are well and truly in the mood, even if it is a somewhat sedate take of the seductive opener.

ensemble.jpeg

It is not just the musical’s iconic status that is grand. And despite the production’s over 40 cast members, things never feel claustrophobic on stage. In fact, the ensemble numbers really shine in their razzle dazzle. And Act One’s ‘Cell Block Tango’ in which inmates describe the circumstances that led to their imprisonment, showcases Desney Toia-Sinapati’s creative choreography that allows its monologues’ punchlines to shine amongst expressive vocals without losing its Bob Fossey feel. And it is not only a choreographic style that is evident; costumes are era-evocative in their detail with art deco-esque touches to the dance attire of the Tango’s merry murderesses for example. Staging is similarly visually imaginative, especially in Act Two’s courtroom circus scenes.

courtroom.jpeg

While the story is primarily of publicity-hungry murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Heidi Enchelmaier), in Cook County Jail competition to outwit each other and obtain more media fame, it is enhanced by its cast of supporting characters. In this instance, Danika Saal may not be all Mamma Morton sass, but she does do vocal justice to the saucy, show-stopping outline of the Matron’s mutual-aid corruption, ‘When You’re Good to Mama’. Joshua Moore makes for a youthful Billy Flynn (the very reason Hugh Jackman passed on the movie role). The masterful (but costly) lawyer seems more slick than suave in his shiny suit, but again, his vocals are excellent in unfeeling rather than charismatic croon about how all he cares about is his love of money (‘All I Care About’). Another less exuberant number comes from Roxie’s discarded, downtrodden husband Amos who laments his chronic invisibility in ‘Mr. Cellophane’. Rod Jones not only makes the solo wistful in sentiment, but manages the balance of pathos and humour required of the role.

amos.jpeg

Ultimately, however, this is a show about celebrity criminals, Velma and Roxie. Heidi Encheimaier is excellent in conveying Roxie’s transformation from a nobody chorus girl ‘dumb mechanic’s wife’ to brassy, brazen celebrity after she murders her nightclub regular lover Fred.

the gun.jpeg

Encheimaier’s performance is not so much as a vulnerable little-girl-lost but a woman of single-minded ambition, and the result is compelling despite her character’s dislikeable self-absorption and her goofy animation as dummy atop Billy’s knee as her press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating her version of the truth while she mouths the words in ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’, is one of the show’s highlights. And she is superb in songs of her own voice too, especially in share of her narcissistic satisfaction with being the name on everybody’s lips in realisation of her fame fantasy, ‘Roxie’.

roxie

While Roxie is trying to get to vaudeville, vampy Velma Kelly has already been a star there. And Joanna Nash is dynamic in her vibrant stage presence as the slinky vixen, both vocally and physically. Her singing voice is era-appropriately smoky but strong, and she moves about the stage with an infectious, lithe energy. This is especially evident in her desperate musical attempt to entice Roxie to refashion the sister act, ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’, in which she acrobatically recreates both parts of the dance duet, along with improvised musical accompaniment of saxophones and alike.

velma 2.jpeg

“Chicago” is a solid-hit Broadway musical of the old-school sort, not just in its 1920s setting, but its sensibility of razzle dazzle jazz hands song and dance, even if its purpose is to satirise American values, corruption and cult of the celebrity criminal. While opening night of Savoyards “Chicago” suffers from some sound issues, these are minor and don’t spoil what is an entertaining evening for all, especially given its additional humour, such as is courtroom re-enactments of Roxie’s crime. Indeed, in its tribute to its music and libretto, under Sherryl-Lee Secomb’s direction, this “Chicago” is an over-the-top and whole-lot-of-fun night out in affection of the art of murder.

Photos – c/o Chris Thomas