Riverside High School
Who says that murder's not an art? From the lights of Vaudeville to Cook County Jail, Woodgrove High School's production of Chicago teemed with the values that are held near and dear to all hearts: scandal, exploitation, and a Jazz-Age mischief.
With music by John Kander and book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Chicago has managed to hold the intrigue of audiences for decades with its roaring 20's setting and adept dancing style. In Roxie Hart's eyes, stardom upstages acquittal. After murdering her lover, this aspiring vaudevillian is sent to the cell blocks of Cook County Jail with her hopes of freedom resting in the hands of Billy Flynn, a lawyer whose perfect track record is almost as impressive as his manipulative skillset. While Roxie simultaneously fights for the attention of the press and Flynn, murderess Velma Kelly watches with a deep-rooted jealousy. Amidst a conflict of two unmitigated egos, Chicago satirizes the idolization of violence that sparked the public interest of the '20s, serving as the longest-running Broadway musical in history.
With challenging dance elements at the forefront of the stage, Woodgrove Theatre stayed true to the origins of the Fosse revolution. Drawing inspiration from the award-winning 2002 movie and multiple theatrical adaptations, the Jazz Age was revived in a typically suggestive dance manner. A performer who hit all kicks consistently was that Kat Niemann in the role of Hunyak, emphasizing the importance of dance behind a character whose only words are "not guilty."
An outstanding display of vocal talent helped maintain a strong core to the production. Roxie, played by the energetic Collen Clark, blended her strong vocal abilities and comedic timing together to create a well-balanced duo alongside the vocally stellar Julia Condie in the role of Velma Kelly. Both showcased a wide display of talent in songs such as "All That Jazz" and "We Both Reached for the Gun." Lukas D'Errico in the role of Billy Flynn displayed a plethora of well-rounded talent throughout Chicago. Using subtle character inflections to drive home powerful vocal performances, D'Errico not only managed to sway jury members and news reporters, but the audience alike. Another notable performance was that Grace Harkins in the role of Mama Morton, bringing about an influential stage presence to many scenes.
Alongside a handful of gifted performers, student conductor Laura Shelton and the Chicago Pit Orchestra delivered a powerful display of musical strength throughout Chicago. Working with classic pieces that ranged from ballads to the upbeat swing of Big Band, Shelton conducted with an immense amount of poise and comfort that emphasized the importance behind a well-crafted connection with her instrumentalists.
Chicago at Woodgrove High School was an entertaining depiction of the struggle between limelight and litigation, giving all audience members the "old razzle dazzle!"
Woodrow Wilson School
Welcome to Chicago, where everyone wants to see their name in lights - but it comes at a cost. The seedy underbelly of the city in the 1920s, replete with the corruption of justice and a public obsession with female murderesses, provides fodder for the iconic musical, in which crime and crookedness morph into vaudevillian spectacle with a little razzle dazzle. Woodgrove High School's slick production actualized the instantly recognizable environment of the long-running Broadway production (originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse) and the acclaimed 2002 film, where slapstick comedy, dark cynicism, and show business coexist in the ultimate theatre - the courtroom.
Would-be celebrity criminals Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart's rivalry for the attention of the press, the public, and an attorney sure to get them off death row was realized by powerhouse performances from Julia Condie and Colleen Clark. Clark's cheeky Roxie was seamlessly indoctrinated into the world of the Cook County Jail, embracing the spotlight brought on by her crime with glee in numbers such as "Me and My Baby" and the idealistic "Roxie," both of which were burgeoned by her expressive physicality. Condie started the show with a bang in "All that Jazz," her mature voice, sly demeanor, and confident control of her movement setting a high bar for the production. While also responsible for choreographing many of the show's numbers, Condie and Clark were consistent in their vocal and dance ability, exhibiting strong chemistry as arch nemeses and later unlikely partners. Lukas D'Errico clearly characterized the silver-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn, appearing cooly manipulative but effortlessly charming in the standout number "We Both Reached for the Gun." Clark and D'Errico alike exhibited complete consciousness of the subtle comedy of the libretto which accentuated, through fourth wall breaks and witty asides, the text's satire of Vaudeville and the intersection of performance in theatre and the pursuit of justice.
Serving as a liaison between the immoral world of the musical and that of the audience, which were purported to be eerily akin, was the enthusiastic Master of Ceremonies (Kevin Crandall), with Mama Morton (Grace Harkins) also chiming in to introduce some of the night's numbers. Harkins' sophisticated presence and rich vocals strengthened her turn as the boss of the women's jail and exploiter of a system of "reciprocity." On the other end of the moral spectrum, the sympathetic Amos Hart (Issac Windsor) lamented being manipulated and overlooked, particularly in favor of Fred Casely (the memorable Dillon Holdridge), whose untimely death at Roxie's hands catalyzed the musical's events. Holdridge and Crandall returned as some of Roxie's Boys, who energized several numbers with complete commitment to choreography with unique movements which reflected Fosse's distinct influence.
With mesh and fishnet-laden costumes, the production evoked a contextual ambiguity which made its themes feel pressing, but then emulated Jazz-Age Chicago through the aesthetic of Rhona York's makeup and Issac Winsor and Mason Telles' set. Double-tiered cell blocks contained the large ensemble and rotated to evoke different settings, with Joey Stitt and Vincent Vien's creative lighting punctuating the "Cell Block Tango" and "Hungarian Hanging." Laura Shelton's conducting kept the pit orchestra executing the lively score at a professional level.
Woodgrove's stylish and energetic production of Chicago (High School Edition) encapsulated the assertion that "All that Jazz" is enough to take common criminals straight to the top, if only they're willing to sacrifice their morality for an ephemeral grasp at stardom.