Flint Hill School
How does one describe murder? It is a sin, a tragedy, and the finest source of entertainment in 1920's Chicago. In their production of Chicago: High School Edition, the students of George Mason High School sang, danced, and backflipped their way into the audience's hearts, all while trying to get away with the worst of crimes.
Inspired by a 1926 play, the musical appeared on Broadway from 1975 to 1977, spawning a 1996 Broadway revival and a 2002 Academy Award-winning film. Famous for Kander and Ebb's music and Bob Fosse's iconic choreography, Chicago is the second longest-running Broadway show and one of the most produced shows in America and the UK. In a series of vaudeville-style vignettes, it tells the satirical tale of two murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who use their newfound notoriety to catapult themselves into stardom and compete with each other for the public's attention.
Meggie Ferguson portrayed the scheming Roxie Hart with spunk and sass, and her tireless quest for publicity was entirely believable. Ferguson demonstrated her talent through her powerful voice and comedic physicality. She also had great interactions with the other actors, notably Mithi Peñaranda (Velma Kelly). The pair's chemistry made the rivalry between their characters a highlight of the show. Peñaranda also shone in her own right; her smooth singing voice in the opening song, "All That Jazz," quite literally started the night on a good note, and she maintained her dynamic energy throughout the entire show.
Another amazing actor was Miles Jackson, who played Billy Flynn, the coveted and cunning defense lawyer for the murderesses. As the mastermind behind Roxie's trial, Jackson captured the essence of Billy's character with his suave exterior and shameless greed. He sang beautifully, showing off his vocal prowess in various numbers, especially "We Both Reached for the Gun." His already exceptional performance was enhanced by the hilarious physicality, facial expressions, and comedic timing he employed in every scene, which added to his chemistry with the other characters and established him as an audience favorite.
The members of the ensemble were an absolute delight to watch. Full of vitality, they enriched the production with their expressive movements and engagement with the happenings onstage. They perfectly complemented the leads, and each ensemble member's energy added to the quality of the show. The number "Razzle Dazzle" showcased the skills of the ensemble, particularly the acrobatic talents of Kevin Hong and TiKa Wallace. The ensemble never lacked spirit, and they consistently imbued the production with charismatic liveliness.
An immensely gifted orchestra performed John Kander's classic score. They were always in sync with the actors, leading to the satisfaction of hearing an instrumental gunshot sound exactly as a prop gun is ‘fired.' Displayed prominently onstage behind the actors, the members of the orchestra were well incorporated into the show and an integral part of its success.
Strong technical elements also heightened the caliber of the show. The simple set, containing jail cells on the sides of the stage and lights spelling out the show's title, was very effective. Lighting cues were sharp and prompt, and the sound team struck a balance between the orchestra's music and the actors' singing. The makeup was both true to the time period of the show and personalized to each actor, showing precise attention to detail.
At George Mason High School, the cast and crew of Chicago: High School Edition masterfully told a story of murder, scandal, and the fleeting nature of fame. But while the publicity surrounding Chicago's murderesses did not last, the memory of this marvelous production certainly will.
W.T. Woodson High School
The mumbling in the crowd ceased as soon when the lights dimmed and everyone's attention was drawn to Mithi Peñaranda, as Velma Kelly, when she walked on stage. With the lights spelling out "Chicago" behind her she opened the show with a powerful rendition of "All That Jazz" with the ensemble supporting her all the way through.
"Chicago (High School Edition)," produced at George Mason High School, is a satire of the "celebrity criminals" that became popular in the 1920's. The vaudeville-style performance is the thrilling story of the murderesses in Chicago and the rivalry between Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart's rise to fame that eventually led them to perform together.
The opening number set the bar with high energy that was met throughout the performance. After Roxie kills her husband the audience is transported to the Cook County Jail and introduced to the Merry Murderesses. These six women, including Peñaranda, performed the "Cell Block Tango" with intense physicality that drew the viewer into each individual's tale. One of these performers amazed the viewers with her pointe work.
Rebekah Ayre, playing Hunyak, danced with Sasha Ronning, Fred Casley, and awed the crowd with incredible partner work. Ayre's use of pointe shoes showcased her mastery of ballet and gave more depth to the role because of it.
After all the energy that had been on stage no one expected it to increase even more, but then Miles Jackson, as Billy Flynn, entered. Jackson brought humor and intensity to his role. In "We Both Reached for the Gun" his physicality with Meggie Ferguson, Roxie Hart, drew in viewers with his sincere performance, while also amplifying his comedic stylings.
One of the many high points of the show was Jackson's 21-second high note at the end of this song. It was not just the duration that surprised viewers but the technique behind it. The impressive display highlighted his mastery and voice control.
Peñaranda also showcased her expertise in her duet with Ferguson, "My Own Best Friend." Her voice blended smoothly yet also stood apart to differentiate between the two while also remaining true to the style of the piece.
These vocalists were spectacular and were supported by the talented Killer Diller Orchestra. The orchestra showcased their sophistication by adapting to the actors. The instrumental sections had a variety of solos and they were all impeccable, but violinist Chris Deng stood out. The violin would not typically fit the Jazz style of the piece but he adjusted his technique to match and nailed his solo.
Even though the Orchestra was phenomenal it was hard to hear at some points due to the volume of the microphones in use. Microphones ran loud and occasionally peaked which at times made it hard to listen to, but there was no feedback which was very impressive, especially considering the equipment at their disposal.
The overall show had outstanding actors who fully embodied their characters with a large production team supporting them; "Chicago (High School Edition)" was a wonderful representation of how to create a cohesive production to highlight the talent and dedication of those involved.