Chicago – 8 May 2019, Sheffield University Drama Studio
***** After seeing Chicago performed several years ago, where I fell in love with its razzle dazzle, I have longed to see another production of the show, so was delighted to be in the audience for SUPAS’s opening night.
Broadway’s longest-running American musical, Chicago provides a dazzling and satirical look at fame, justice, and the media machine. Set in 1920s Chicago and based on real-life murders and trials, it follows Roxie Hart, a wannabe vaudevillian star who murders her lover and is arrested, despite her attempts to convince her pushover husband, Amos, to lie for her. In the Cook County Jail, Roxie meets her hero, the famed double-murderess and nightclub performer Velma Kelly. When both acquire the same lawyer, the greedy and lustful superstar, Billy Flynn, tensions come to a head as they vie for the spotlight.
From the musical’s opening number “All That Jazz” supported by some of the best choreography I have seen from SUPAS, Francesca Cornell as Velma Kelly, in her stunning black bob, confirmed that she was born to play the role on a Broadway stage, with the vocal and dance talent, charisma and stage presence to make it her role.
Kendall Knight as Roxie Hart sung “Funny Honey” sweetly and elegantly with a perfect combination of affection, tolerance, humour and anger towards her husband Amos Hart, played by Nathan Sloane (more about him later), and gloriously hitting the high note finale.
The sign of a great production of Chicago is the “Cell Block Tango” and SUPAS’s version sounded almost identical to the official soundtrack CD whilst still allowing the company to made it their own with clever choreography that brought the murders themselves to life.
“When You’re Good to Mama” provided the perfect showcase for Marie MacAninch’s jazz-cabaret voice and her body confidence; before “All I Care About” provided the perfect introduction to the charming Billy Flynn, played by Josh Warburton, and allowed the talented ensemble to engage in some old school Broadway glamour; and “A Little Bit of Good” showcased Megan Armson as Mary Sunshine’s wonderful blend of operatic tones and chirpy, over-the-top inner Julie Andrews.
The choreography of “We Both Reached for the Gun” perfectly captured the ventriloquist / puppet routine between Kendall and Josh and confirmed that Josh’s voice and dance ability only got stronger and stronger as the musical went on.
“Roxie” truly put Kendall in the spotlight, allowing her charisma, jazz voice, stage presence and attitude to shine through, with a routine that could easily be used as her audition piece to perform the role in a professional production and made sure then name on all the audience’s lips was Roxie; immediately before “I Can’t Do It Alone” acted perfectly as Francesca’s audition piece to worthily join Kendall in a professional production and acting as a superb showcase for her top notch jazz talent.
The final musical number of Act 1, “My Own Best Friend” offered a powerful and passionate duet between Kendall and Francesca that allowed their superb musical ranges to powerfully shine through and made my spine truly tingle.
Unaccompanied by the cast, ensemble, dancing and vocals, the musical talent of the 16 piece band at the back of the stage was able to shine through in all it’s musical glory in the Ent’racte at the beginning of Act 2; before Kendall’s performance of “Me and My Baby” supported by the ensemble truly transported the audience back to the roaring twenties.
Nathan Sloane, as Amos Hart, performance of “Mr Cellophane” was beautifully performed with lovable thoughtfulness and honesty that would make him the perfect boy next door character for any professional musical, delightfully getting the audience on his side with his situation something we can always relate to at some point and confirming that he will never be our Mr Cellophane.
“When Velma Takes the Stand” enabled Francesca to show off her Charleston skills and offer the audience a glamorous, dramatic lesson in how to win your murder case Hollywood style; closely followed by Kendall’s own interpretation in her dramatic court room scene.
“Razzle Dazzle” provided Josh’s musical number of the night and as he wandered around the audience, it was his smooth vocals and moves the audience’s eyes followed, and not the full ensemble on stage; before “Class” performed by Francesca and Maria put the females up there with a tremendous musical duet that any of the big female West End stars would be proud of, and with lyrics that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1920s.
Last but not least, “Nowadays / Hot Honey Rag” provided the glamorous finale that Kendall, Francesca and the musical deserved, proving the show isn’t just good, but is grand and swell, that two jazz dancers are better than one and allowing the chemistry and friendship between the two to shine through.
In conclusion, this is a superb production of Chicago with excellent performances from all involved and that is packed full of crisp choreography and direction (thanks to director Emma Dorricott, assistant director Alice Preece and choreographer Katie Kelson), superb vocal voices and Chicago accents, clever narration and the class and glamour required by any great production of the show.
Confirming everyone involved with SUPAS is a great musical talent to watch, the show should not be missed by any current or future fans of Chicago in and around the Sheffield area.
Chicago will be performed at Sheffield University Drama Studio at 7.30pm until Saturday 11 May. Tickets are £9 full price and £7 for students. To book visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/supas.
SUPAS (Sheffield University Performing Arts Society) is the University of Sheffield’s only society specialising in musical theatre, putting on two shows each academic year in the University Drama Studio along with a variety of workshops and other projects. Their core philosophy is to have fun and be as inclusive as possible. For further information visit www.supassheffield.com.