Stratford Festival’s thrilling and cynical Chicago comes at an uncanny time


Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, based mostly on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Script adaptation by David Thompson. Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore. Until Oct. 30 on the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen St., Stratford. Stratfordfestival.ca and 800-567-1000.

If I may give this present 5 stars, I might.

Stellar director-choreographer Donna Feore outdoes herself with an impossibly entertaining manufacturing of the famed 1975 musical which ruthlessly satirizes the prison justice system, one tear-it-down vaudeville quantity at a time.

As in her earlier Stratford Festival productions, Feore embraces the multiple-threat skills of the performing firm. Not solely are the numbers astonishingly properly sung and never solely does the choreography explode with innovation, precision and danger, the performing is completely calibrated to ship the fabric’s depraved wit.

The present was programmed for the 2020 Stratford season and postponed in the course of the pandemic, so it’s an uncanny coincidence it opened in the identical week the decision got here down on essentially the most lurid celeb trial in a long time. While it’s circuitously talked about, the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp prepare wreck saturates the present’s already cynical tackle jurisprudence with deeper ranges of irony.

If you’re like me, these connections will take a while to land, partially as a result of the trial on the centre of the present doesn’t occur till the second act — and since the primary act is so filled with nice numbers and so seamlessly staged which you can barely cease to catch your breath.

The plot, based mostly on a real story from Nineteen Twenties Chicago, spins round two girls accused of homicide. Vaudeville artist Velma Kelly (Jennifer Rider-Shaw) is locked up in Cook County Jail for allegedly killing her adulterous husband and sister. Her crooked lawyer Billy Flynn (Dan Chameroy) has turned Velma right into a media sensation, and she or he’s cruising in the direction of acquittal. It’s the crime of Roxie Hart (Chelsea Preston) is accused of that provides the present its total construction: she shoots her lover, is thrown within the pen, and persuades her hapless husband Amos (Steve Ross) to place up the cash for Billy to defend her. As Roxie’s trial approaches, so does her rivalry with Velma escalate, as they wrestle to remain within the public eye whereas different celeb crimes steal the limelight.

The genius stroke of creators Fred Ebb (e-book and lyrics), Bob Fosse (e-book and unique route/ choreography) and John Kander (music) was to construction the musical as a vaudeville present: every factor of the story is launched as a brand new quantity with deadpan humour (“Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Velma Kelly in an act of desperation”).

The vaudeville construction lends the fabric each its lavish leisure worth and its deep irony. Many numbers have develop into musical theatre classics: the present crashes open triumphantly with “All that Jazz” and just a few minutes later wows once more with “Cell Block Tango,” by which Velma and 5 different accused murderesses inform how their dishonest males “had it coming.” Throughout, the present serves up responsible pleasure: it’s gotta be mistaken that such scrumptious enjoyable comes out of betrayal, violence, and corruption, however oh, it feels so proper.

Feore’s is the primary main manufacturing of this musical in additional than 30 years and the choreography bears her signature whereas honouring the sultry, angular spirit of Fosse’s unique staging. The female and male choruses are stacked with superb expertise and Feore choreographs to their strengths: the kicks are impossibly excessive, the spins by no means appear to cease, and the precision of the hip flicks and fast turns is breathtaking. A darkly amusing trope all through is perversely sexualized poses (feminine performers held the wrong way up within the splits with the boys’s heads hovering over their crotches, for instance).

Rider-Shaw got here up via the Stratford ranks, and together with her Velma triumphantly positive aspects star standing: her singing, dancing and performing are fantastically exact and she or he tears it down within the late Act 1 quantity “I Can’t Do it Alone.” Stratford newcomer Preston is equally spectacular and shines in “Roxie,” the one quantity within the present that steps out of the Nineteen Twenties interval to touch upon our period with a cleverly deployed hashtag.

The brilliance of Chameroy’s efficiency lies in his underplaying: he cruises via his large manufacturing numbers “All I Care About is Love” and “Razzle Dazzle” as if there have been little effort concerned, despite the fact that his singing and performing are perfection. Sandra Caldwell is delightfully brassy and reveals off a killer belting voice as matron Mama Morton. That Ross is so convincingly pathetic as cuckolded Amos units him as much as deliver the home down in “Mr. Cellophane.” And simply while you thought there couldn’t be something left to boggle the thoughts, a Canadian musical theatre star reveals off next-level capacities for operatic singing because the reporter Mary Sunshine.

Franklin Brasz’s orchestra delivers the horn-heavy rating with pleasant aptitude. The design enhances the double-edged nature of the fabric by containing each glamour and its reverse. Michael Gianfrancesco’s set of shiny grids and railings doubles as jail bars. Costume designer Dana Osborne’s silky and revealing lingerie for the showgirls is often coated up by striped jail clothes. And Michael Walton’s lighting dazzles till it abruptly doesn’t: the best way the lights exit behind Roxie after her trial ends underscores the purpose that she’s develop into yesterday’s sensation.

There is not any element on this manufacturing — from the ingenious methods by which set shifts develop into a part of the present’s meaning-making to the preshow stage setting and the bits of enterprise opening the second act — that has not been exactly thought-about and delivered.

Cue my exit music: the Stratford Festival is again, child, and it will be a criminal offense to overlook this indecently thrilling present.


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