A talented ensemble cast and sweeping jazz score charms all
Are you ready for a night filled with sex, murder, and “All That Jazz?” McGill’s Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society (AUTS) has taken a leap of faith with its latest production, the wildly popular Broadway musical Chicago—and the risk definitely paid off.
Set in the mid-1920s in (you guessed it) Chicago, the musical tells the story of Roxie Hart, who murders her lover and winds up in jail. Little does she know, her crime could be her ticket to stardom. Unfortunately, she has some competition in fellow inmate Velma Kelly, who has her own eyes set on vaudeville fame.
The live band set the tone for the show, transporting the audience back in time to a jazz lounge of the roaring ’20s and taking the production to a whole new level.
The stars of the show, Natalie Aspinall as Velma Kelly and Vanessa Drunsnitzer as Roxie Hart, were exactly that: stars. Both women exuded charm and sex appeal on the stage, with powerhouse vocals and on-point dance skills to boot. Their shining moments are too numerous to mention. In fact, the female ensemble was full of very strong performers, giving the men a tough act to follow.
These strong female players were the reason artistic director Debora Friedmann wanted to tackle the show in the first place.
“We have so many incredible, strong female performers, and I really wanted to find a show that I knew would showcase that,” said Friedmann, a fourth-year anthropology student. “I thought it would be the perfect show to really both showcase the incredible female talent that we have here at McGill and at the same time send out a more distinct message than some other musicals.”
Friedmann, also the show’s choreographer, drew a lot inspiration from Bob Fosse’s original choreography. She even took some cues from watching videos of Beyoncé, as well as from her own personal street dancing background.
One of the stand-out moments of the night was the “Cell Block Tango.” Over the years, this song has become one of the show’s most ubiquitous tracks, as well as an anthem for powerful (albeit murderous) women.
So how did the AUTS ladies compare? They killed it—no pun intended! The entire performance was fuelled by a fiery passion, each actress upping the ante, one after another, as the women of “Murderess Row” shared the tales of their heinous crimes. Suffice it to say, by this point in the show I could already predict that the production was going to be a hit.
The women don’t deserve all the credit. Olivier Bishop-Mercier gave a heart-warming performance as the charmingly oblivious Amos Hart, and Kenny Wong’s take on the cocky, scheming Billy Flynn stole the show. His hilarious rendition of “We Both Reached For The Gun,” which, for those not familiar with the musical, features the ensemble as journalists being controlled like puppets as Flynn speaks through Roxie like a ventriloquist dummy, was executed perfectly. A scene as ridiculous as this one could have been a disaster, but with such strong choreography (and an even stronger cast), it turned out just as humorous as the original.
The show wasn’t without its mishaps, as is expected with the debut of any production, but a couple of flubbed lines and technical difficulties here or there are hardly anything more than a small scratch on a massive success.
Chicago is being presented at McGill’s Moyse Hall from Jan. 22 to 24 and 29 to 31. For ticket info, check out autsmcgill.com.