Review: Chicago the Musical – So Popera Productions (NSW)

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Music by John Kander, Directed by Amy Copeland

Review by Justin Clarke

Chicago the Musical, Broadway’s longest running American musical, returns to the Illawarra Performing Arts stage presented by the award-winning production company So Popera Productions. Director Amy Copeland harnesses the glitz and glamour of the Broadway production through the fiery energy of Teagan Huntsdale’s choreography, along with an outstanding, professional quality ensemble.

With the orchestra positioned on a tiered stage, musical director Peter Copeland presents John Kander’s music with ease that is reminiscent and true to the vaudevillian style the show was born in. A glistening ‘Chicago’ sign sits on the stage in front of the orchestra, with a single spotlight highlighting a top hat in front of the audience. With a seductive sauntering onto the stage, the cast introduce us to this tale of murder, fame, rivalries and corruption.

Told through a satirical lens, Chicago is a raunchy tale of the media’s stronghold on fame, and justice. With a rotating narration from the ensemble, songs are introduced like a vaudeville performance surrounding the famous double-murderess Velma Kelly (Allegra Wilson) and recently jailed and aspiring star Roxie Hart (Anastasia Feneri). With both women being presented by the smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn (Scott Radburn), tensions between the two stars build as they fight for the public’s, and the media’s, attention.

From the beginning ‘5, 6, 7, 8’, Bob Fosse’s influence is shown through the skin-tight, mesh costuming, finger twirling and magnetically tight movements of the ensemble. The first twenty minutes of the production are electrifying with the ensemble proving why they received the CAT Award for Best Ensemble in 2017. Whether it’s the female half, giving everything to twist and turn and swing their bodies around the stage, or the males’ performing lifts and leaps that are as graceful as those on a ballet stage,  the energy this cast gives is phenomenal. Assisted by John Michael Narres, Teagan Huntsdale has connected with every fibre of what makes Fosse appealing and captivating on the stage.

With a cheeky grin, a girlish laugh and astonishing singing voice, it would be worth your money paying to see Feneri’s performance, rather than catch a plane to endure Pamela Anderson in the role. 

Amy Copeland  brings the Broadway staging to the Illawarra, with her own added twists. Ann-Maree Veljanovski’s Katalin “Not Guilty” Helinszki, performs an aerial act with fabric to symbolise a hanging noose, which brought gasps from the audience. Copeland’s direction boldly takes on the challenge of recreating an international staging in the Illawarra that, at times, threatens to rival that of the professional productions.

Allegra Wilson’s Velma Kelly is exquisitely entertaining. With a depth of humour and desperation, Wilson digs down deep to growl and explode her characters hit numbers, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’ that brought rousing applause from the opening night crowd.

With art imitating life, Anastasia Feneri’s Roxie Hart  brings a captivating performance that steals the spotlight. At first being largely hidden from the audience, allowing Velma Kelly’s fame to be established, Feneri shows the rise of Roxie’s fame and ambition throughout her performance. With a cheeky grin, a girlish laugh and astonishing singing voice, it would be worth your money paying to see Feneri’s performance, rather than catch a plane to endure Pamela Anderson in the role. 

Supporting the two leads are the equally talented Scott Radburn, Anne Marie-Fanning and Justin Huntsdale. Radburn brings an experienced performance to the role of Billie Flynn, using his range to play with the notes of his character’s songs. Although never really making a lasting impact against his fellow performers, Radburn is a pleasure to watch on stage. Marie-Fanning plays Mamma Morton with  ease and confidence. In  ‘When You’re Good to Mamma’, Marie-Fanning soared. Huntsdale’s pitiful fool Amos, devoted husband to the fame-seeking Roxie, won the audience’s sighs and sympathy. Having fun with the orchestra and spotlight failing to notice him, Huntsdale brought great variety to the production.

Special mention goes to performers Catrina Ralph, Stefanie Merino, Kelly Duroy, Ann-Maree Veljanovksi and Amelia Kentwell for their exquisite performance of the ‘Cell Block Tango’. You would not want to mess with these women!

Despite a few microphone crackles and dropped lines, the production was slick and felt like they’d been performing all week. The main thing that could be noted was the need for more spotlights, particularly when characters were at the front of the stage. Apart from when the lighting cast unique outlines of performers near the wings, a majority of faces were hidden in black at key moments.

Chicago the Musical is a saucy, professionally tuned and heart stopping night of entertainment. With a cast that clearly exuberates their joy to be back performing this timeless piece, it’s worth seeing just to witness the insanely tight choreography, the two leads – and all that jazz.

Photos: @annawarrphotography

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Chicago the Musical plays at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre until Sunday 3rd April 2022. Tickets can be booked here.

CREATIVES
Book Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music John Kander
Lyrics Fred Ebb
Based on the play Chicago Maurine Dallas Watkins
Script adaptation David Thompson
Director Amy Copeland
Musical Director Peter Copeland
Choreography Tegan Huntsdale
Assistant Choreography John Michael Narres

CAST
Anastasia Feneri
Allegra Wilson
Justin Huntsdale
Scott Radburn
Anne-Marie Fanning
John Reynolds
Teagan Huntsdale
John Michael Narres
Brittany Doyle
Danny Condon
Amelia Kentwell
Jamal Rizk
Catrina Ralph
Lachlan Grogan
Stefanie Merino
Maxwell Everett
Kelly Duroy
Zach Bladwell
Ann-Maree Veljanovski

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