Musical theatre raises bar, reaches for gun, with Chicago

St. Thomas University’s musical theatre class raised the bar in their production quality with this year’s show, Chicago.

Entering the Black Box Theatre, you are transported to the world of a 1920s speakeasy vaudeville theatre. Tiny bistro tables covered in red velvet tablecloths graced with sparkling glasses of champagne were scattered in front of a tiered stage with gilt trim. Golden fringe sparkled at the swooped edges of heavy black curtains that framed the big city brick façade backdrop. Hanging above it all was a giant letter C illuminated with Edison-style lightbulbs.

The golden glamour of the set was the perfect scene for the flashy jazz, murder and drama Chicago is known for.

The ensemble shone just as bright as leading ladies Velma Kelly (Kira Chisholm) and Roxie Hart (Georgia MacNaughton). Show-stopping group numbers with precise, synchronized choreography and a smoothly-blended chorus of voices helped give the lead characters the energy, vibrancy and support needed to pull off the intensity and passion of the story. Most impressive was “Razzle Dazzle” which featured Dustyn Forbes doing backflips and flying across the stage on a trapeze.

Chisholm commanded the stage as Velma, bringing a stage presence that knew, and wanted, all eyes on her. MacNaughton complemented Velma’s queen-bee diva with a selfish, ambitious Roxie that was just bratty enough to be entertaining and humorous rather than annoying.

Lucas Gutiérrez-Robert did wonderfully as Roxie’s abused, exploited husband Amos, with a Chicago accent that could probably fool any American not from the Midwest. His rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” had the audience awwing as he shuffled off stage, with someone whispering loudly “bless him.”

Also of note was Anisha Romany as prison matron Mama Morton. Romany’s smooth, low voice was warm with a slightly gravelly timbre, a perfect fit for the transparently corrupt and genuinely self-serving character of Mama, a bad lady you just can’t help but love.

You can’t have a story of murder, prison and publicity without a slick, fast-talking lawyer, and Ben Smith fit the bill as Billy Flynn, Roxie and Velma’s attorney. Smith brought the suave sarcasm the role requires, rounding the character out with a strong tenor voice and solid dancing.

While the show made good use of the beautiful set, the staging of scenes and dance numbers did tend to play out mainly to the section of audience front and centre, leaving the side seats a little neglected.

However, it is no question that STU’s musical theatre class has reached a new level of production with Chicago.

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