I always enjoy watching college shows of budding and aspiring students, not because I know some of the talented young performers who have started to set the foundations of their art in the hope of a career in the same, but because they are the ones who really give it their all with oozles of passion. The Hammond School’s production of Broadway’s longest running American musical Chicago shows just that in its professional yet minimalistic portrayal.
The ‘dazzling’ hit stage show, with a film released back in 2002 starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger as inmates of the big doll house (oops sorry wrong show), Cook County Jail, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, is a satirical look at the greed of the two in search of fame in the 1920s whilst they are charged with murders (based on real-life murders and trials) and turn to jailhouse governor Matron ‘Mama’ Morton (Eloise Skidmore) and sharp-suited Lawyer Billy Flynn (Andrew Jones-Thompson) - whose costume was perhaps a bit too modern, much like the wheelchair in the second half - in order to be loved by the nation through the media’s perceptions of them, even resorting to lies in the process.
Roxie Hart (the brilliantly multi-talented Bethan Jacks) is a wannabe vaudevillian star who murders her lover (Frank Casely played by Daniel Wilshire) and is arrested for the crime despite attempts to convince her pushover yet very intelligent and innocent husband Amos (played wonderfully by well-cast Matt Newham) to lie for her. Both parts are played with strength and realism, clearly based and perfect to those in the film, which is nice. The other leading lady is double-murderess and nightclub performer Velma Kelly (highly esteemed and extremely competent Megan-Hollie Robertson) who we meet first in the renowned “All The Jazz”. Both ladies acquire Mr Flynn’s services for their cases but, as with Mama, it is all a question of cost, despite his ability to clear a name of two.
Everyone in the show, and indeed at most theatre schools these days, is trained to be ‘triple threat’ and this shows through. With great (mostly) in sync choreography by Heather Roberts and Alison Hughes which was well-executed with some flexible females (and males), along with the brilliant band, led by faculty member Andrew Saunders, who accompanied the many beautiful voices, this is a show I am glad I travelled to see, not least for the music, by John Kander and timeless yet occasionally repetitive lyrics by Fred Ebb.
With a healthy ensemble, in fitness and quantity, the show is well-presented with very little scenery but the odd piece of furniture and good use being made of the rear platform under which the band were placed. With cameos from Chloe Gerrard (reporter Mary Sunshine), George Vaccarri (lawyer and introducer), Rob Brownsell-Ahern (Seargent and Judge), Niamh Eccleston-Tuohy (Hunyak) and Ailisa Spangler (Go-To-Hell Kitty). Lighting and sound did well and all accents were upheld. Key songs like “Cell Block Tango”, “All I Care About”, “When You’re Good To Mama”, “Mr Cellophane” and “We Both Reached For The Gun” were very well throughout and rehearsed and a pleasure to witness.
To quote the show, “You are a phony celebrity. You're a flash in the pan. In a couple of week’s no-one will know who you are. That’s Chicago!” Well that may be true for the characters in the show but it certainly isn’t the case for the performers. Part of my job and buzz as a review is to identify stand out actors and actresses who I monitor and it is rather satisfying to see them progress to success. I have no doubt that some of these performers will too succeed onto bigger stages.
The people of Chester still love to make an effort to dress up to the theatre and I like that. We’ll be sure to keep you informed of future shows at this great school, but feel free to attend their next show which will be ‘Forever Dance’ from Thursday 7th until Saturday 9th July but do be aware that the venue is just outside Chester in Hoole.
Reviewer: Chris Oatway
Reviewed: 1st July 2016