Albert Einstein High School
Chicago — home of Cloud Gate, Willis Tower...and the six merry murderesses of Cook County jail. At least that's the canon of South County High School's "Chicago (High School Edition)." This production is adapted from the current Broadway version of "Chicago," which was revived in 1996 after a failed stint following its first opening in 1975. The longest-running American Broadway musical, "Chicago" spins a tale of murder and treachery with captivating choreography by the late Bob Fosse.
South County's performance was no different. In fact, it blew the audience out of the water. The two leading ladies, Velma Kelly (Hannah Chester) and Roxie Hart (Emily Mann), were absolutely phenomenal. Both actresses stole the show with incredible dance skills, powerful vocals, and distinct — yet compelling — characters. Velma's brash, sassy attitude beside Roxie's doe-eyed cunning brought out the most interesting aspects of each woman's character. Velma, opening the show with the iconic "All That Jazz," gave the audience an immediate reassurance that this performance was well worth the admission. Later, "Roxie" showcased Roxie's sly, deliberate side in a thrilling number.
The ensemble of "Chicago" was in a league of its own. They moved as a unit, performing complex choreography in stunning synchronicity. Numbers such as "We Both Reached for the Gun" emphasized the strength of the ensemble's cohesion — and of course "Cell Block Tango" allowed the six merry murderesses a chance to show off their skills, dancing, singing, and acting. The ensemble left nothing to the imagination.
One particularly delightful surprise was the character Amos, played by Ian Pathak. Amos famously sings "Mr. Cellophane," and Pathak really knew how to belt it out. His full vocal skill brought "Mr. Cellophane" to life, along with a little tap-dancing magic and some snazzy white gloves. Amos's character inspired sympathy — an emotion not exactly present for any of the other characters. He was a charming, if heartbreaking, change of pace, and a nice breather from all the chaos of the show.
The cast really gave the show their all. Two characters in particular stood out: Billy Flynn (Kevon Thompson) and Matron "Mama" Morton (Olivia Morris). Billy Flynn, the money-hungry, smooth-talking lawyer, drew the audience's eyes from the moment he stepped onstage. Everything about him radiated charm. Thompson had a strong stage presence and high energy, which boosted the show as a whole. Mama did the same, but without any pretense of smoothness; she was all intention. Her presence onstage was absolutely delightful — especially her first entrance. Mama had enough sass to counter Velma's, which made them entertaining scene partners. Meanwhile, Billy Flynn's silver-tongued meddling pushed the story along at every lull. Both performers gave these characters life and made each fun to watch.
"Chicago" is set in the 1920s, and the costumes made that fact very clear. Each dress glittered with designs — inspiration had clearly been taken from the era. The wigs also added to the immersion. There were many technically impressive aspects. The cyclorama brought intense color to the background, setting the mood for each scene before it began. The sound mixing allowed the characters to sing powerful numbers without blowing out the mics. And projections on the walls beside the stage helped to identify the scene, allowing the stage itself to make use of minimal set units. Overall, the performance ran smoothly, and techs were largely responsible.
"Chicago" is absolutely a classic, and classics can be tough burdens to take on. South County showed none of that challenge, only a perfectly polished finished product that left the audience wanting more. The audience was certainly razzle dazzled!
Mary Margaret Lehmkuhler
St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School
Murderesses....showbiz....the fleetingness of fame.....As the lawyer Billy Flynn says, "That's Chicago, kid".
The musical Chicago was based on the true story of a woman who murdered her lover who rose to fame among all the media coverage of her case. A reporter named Maurine Dallas Watkins later realized that her account of the trial had actually brought fame to the killer, and maybe even helped get her off scot free. She wrote a play about it in 1926, which was adapted in 1975 as the musical Chicago.
Chicago follows the story of Roxie Hart, a woman who murdered her boyfriend, an act which her husband is none too happy about. The musical chronicles her journey into the underworld of Chicago crime and all the glitz and glamour that comes with being a famous killer.
Hannah Chester as Velma Kelly and Emily Mann as Roxie Hart were truly stunning dancers. They pulled off their choreography with grace and character, doing splits, high kicks and everything in between. Chester's enthusiasm for her role was evident in her expert comedic timing, fierce expressions and vocals. Mann's precision in her dance steps and ringing voice similarly showed a commitment to her role.
Olivia Morris gave a standout comic performance as Matron "Mama" Morton. From her very entrance she delighted the audience with her amazing vocals, stage presence, and hilarious charm. Another comic actor was Ian Pathak as Amos Hart, Roxie's long-suffering husband, who conveyed a dim yet endearing character well. Pathak's vocals during "Mister Cellophane" were beautifully clear and tragicomic.
Kevon Thompson as Billy Flynn was charming to the last. From his first appearance he stoked the audience, had great chemistry with Mann and Pathak, and truly "razzle-dazzled" the room. Quinton Flores‘ turn as Fred Casely, Roxie's boyfriend, was hilarious. His over the top recounting during the final courtroom scene had the audience laughing excitingly.
South County's ensemble did Chicago's iconic musical numbers great justice. They gave an eerie, satirical take on the media in "They Both Reached For The Gun". Some of Thompson‘s best work in the whole show was in this number, from his self-aware long note to his chuckle inducing Roxie voice, not to mention Mann‘s perfectly coordinated turn as a puppet. Chester's "When Velma Takes The Stand" was an amazing display of character. The sudden shifts she gave between frailty and razor-sharp wit were a shining example of the character Velma Kelly. "Cell Block Tango" was shocking, with Shaylen Estrella giving a delightfully devilish performance as the beleaguered wife of a gum chewer. Simone Straub-Clark gave her monologue in perfect Hungarian, which drew the audience further into the fiction of the show.
The technical work masterfully accentuated the show. Projections on either side of the stage showed real footage from the 1920s, edited photos of the cast, and more symbolic representations of the show's themes that added a mystical quality to the already dazzling show. The lighting was spot on, perfectly synched with the show's many fourth wall breaking jokes.
All in all, South County's production of Chicago High School Edition was a night to remember, full of danger and spectacle.