How do you direct one of the most iconic and best know musicals of all time and present it as something completely reinvented? You do as director Crispin Taylor has done with WAAPA’s final third year musical theatre student’s production of Chicago – take it back to its vaudeville roots and turn it on its head.
There were so many reinvented scenes to enjoy and experience and so many standout nods to old vaudeville in Taylor’s vision of Chicago; from Roxie’s self titled number, ‘Roxie’, performed on top of a grand piano surrounded by her boys, to the duo, ‘My own Best Friend’ performed in the tradition of ‘We’re a Couple of Swells’ (Garland/Astaire style) complete with park bench. Even ‘Razzle Dazzle’ and the subsequent court scene was delivered with vaudevillian homages, with bearded woman and muscle man to boot.
Jenna Curran as Velma Kelly and Kelsi Boyden as Roxie Hart brought their characters to life with style and grace as they moved from two women vying for attention to friends, sharing it. Boyden’s performance of ‘Funny Honey’ was filled with measured sensitivity and frustration while her rendition of ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’ as a ventriloquist doll was outstanding. Curran’s performance of ‘I Can’t Do it Alone’, was delivered with enthusiasm, making challenging choreography look easy.
Finn Alexander as Amos Hart gives a solid performance as Roxie’s “inconsequential” husband. His solo ‘Mr. Cellophane’ elicited just the right amount of empathy from the audience and was reminiscent of the great Charlie Chaplin.
Tom Gustard as Mary Sunshine gave a stand out performance (he hits the high notes with ease!) and there were more than a few surprised audience members at the end of the show. Mackenzie Dunn, though not a principal cast member, manages to exude a star quality and warmth from the ensemble. Her handstand onto the pole during the ‘Cell Block Tango’ was achieved with grace and some wonderful comedic timing.
Not just content to recreate a Fosse-esque vision, choreographer Michael Ralph held his own, creating a dynamitic and sharply controlled series of dance sequences to complement Taylor’s reimaging.
David Cuny as Billy Flynn and Laura Jackson as Matron Mamma Morton do an adequate job with some of the most well known songs in the show. However, Cuny lacked a certain magnetism and arrogance required for the role, while Jackson didn’t feel ‘rough around the edges’ enough to play a top dog in a prison.
The usual glitzy finale was stripped of its flashy sequins as Velma and Roxie stand outside the courtroom, cases in hand, waiting for the next chapter in their lives. A reflection of the modern celebrity: fame doesn’t last forever and once the star fades, it is time move on and resume life.
It was refreshing to see this production move away from the traditional black costuming and sets, with costume designer Eilish Campbell and set designer Ashley King introducing colour into the production.
Taylor has reimagined a classic and in doing so, has paid homage to the vaudeville era of the 1900s, capably performed by The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts third year musical students.
A sell out season – you’ll have needed to beg, steal or scalp a ticket to this one.