Director - David Sidwell, choreographers - Sonja McGirr-Garrett and Alexis Holmes, Musical director - Nick Braae. Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton, until July 10, reviewed by Cate Prestidge.
Phew! Is it hot in here? Sure is! Time to settle in for a rollicking and dramatic night in Chicago.
Adapted from a 1926 play, Chicago is one of the most successful musicals of all time. Set in the jazz era against a backdrop of several real-life high-profile murder cases which captured the public and the press.
The opening number All That Jazz sets the scene for a salacious backdrop of "murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery" as the audience is taken straight into the world of sassy murderess Velma Kelly (Michaela Gilling).
Supported by a steamy cast of vaudeville dancers, Gilling stamps her charisma from the start and her warm, mellow voice is well suited to this sultry, powerful song. Gilling is a wonderful dancer, showcasing years of training and throughout the whole show, she conveys Velma's steeliness, charisma and strength beautifully.
The vaudeville constructs of announcing acts and speaking directly to the audience is a feature of Chicago. With this removal of the "fourth wall" the audience immediately feels part of the show.
The next "act" to appear is Roxie Hart (Courteney Mayall) who in a moment of impulsive rage, kills her lover in dramatic fashion. Despite her best efforts to frame her "Funny Honey" Amos (Tim Pollock), she ends up in prison with Velma and the Merry Murderesses.
Mayall is a polished performer who is well in command in this lead role.
She has found ditzy delights in Roxie, playing her with a giggly charm which the audience loves. Mayall engages with the crowd and sparkles and simpers superbly. Her exploration of Roxie's blend of naivety, earthy physicality, coquettishness, and rat cunning is delightful.
Nick Wilkinson is a seasoned performer and the silver-tongued charmer Billy Flynn is a great fit. Frequently flanked by glamorous dancers, he doesn't miss a beat in his portrayal and his performance of Razzle Dazzle is a standout with an incredible long note. It's great fun and definitely on the "humming later" list.
Mandy Faulkner gave a cracking performance as the worldly wise and droll Matron "Mama" Morton. Well in control of her material, her solo of When You're Good to Mama was great and the duet of Class with Gilling was excellent and well-timed.
Dane Moeke was an audience favourite as the gossip columnist Mary Sunshine, launching into a dramatic and powerful rendition of A Little Bit of Good. Moeke plays to the crowd well and it's great to see him relishing the opportunities this character offers and growing in confidence as a performer in his first principal role.
Tim Pollock had the opening night audience right onboard empathising with him as Roxie's hapless, kind-hearted husband Amos Hart. Pollock imbued Amos with just the right level of hang dog appeal, naivety and hope.
It was a lovely performance that had the audience sighing sadly along with him and applauding loudly. The clown elements in the costuming for his standout song Cellophane
Man, were perfect and enhanced a strong solo.
The production elements of Chicago were everything audiences have come to expect from Hamilton Operatic and the big backstage team deserve credit.
Costumes devised by Claire Field were stunning, reflecting a modern take on the vaudeville costumes of the era with lots of fishnets, bodices, sequins and lace as well as classic 1920s attire.
The stage design was simple with the band positioned on multiple levels framing a central revolving cabaret stage. A dramatic glittering cabaret curtain was hung full length in the centre and provided for glamorous entrances. These four set elements; levels, a monochromatic palette, a revolving stage and metallic curtain, provide a stripped back, flexible set which packs a big punch and focuses the audience firmly on the action.
All of this is only possible with exceptional lighting and technical elements and Aaron Chesham, David Atkinson and Ben Mannell deliver. While there was the occasional tangle in the long curtain threads, the context of the audience being at a live cabaret helped reduce any impact of this.
It was great to see the multiple levels used for performer interplay with the musicians and I enjoyed seeing musical director Nick Braae involved in the action as an MC. The 11-piece band were simply terrific and provided amazing atmosphere throughout.
Choreographers Sonja McGirr-Garrett and Alexis Holmes are to be commended for their exceptional creative partnership. I think this is one of the best productions I've seen, not just for dance numbers but for the integrated movement from the ensemble which added value to every piece of storytelling. The core group of dancers were all exceptional showing skill across a wide range of performance styles and the ensemble were well honed and hit their marks.
The court scene was one of the highlights for me and encapsulates the skill and vision of director David Sidwell who often extends his cast to go beyond their characters, creating new and enhanced interpretations. Centering around Roxie and Billy as they defend her murder charges, Wilkinson and Mayall anchor the scene with dynamic action and mood changes.
Mayall flitted between Roxie's "performance" and her baser nature with giggling ease, somehow charming the audience even as poor old Amos was, once again, led down the garden path. The ensemble were a triumph with their seamless choreography and the scene was full of cute cameos from supporting characters.
The band's "pops" and sound effects throughout enhanced the action enormously and the whole scene was timed impeccably.
The amount of work that goes into making complex scenes like this look effortless is incredible, and the audience loved it.
Minor quibbles were that occasionally I lost some of the words with the excellent band mixed a little too loudly for me, I noticed this particularly from the female leads in the duet with Velma and Roxie.
Hamilton audiences have come to expect high quality polished productions from the Hamilton Operatic Society, and they won't be disappointed. Chicago is a cracker.