Photographer: John Watson. Stage West Theatre Restaurant Calgary
April 18 – June 23, 2013
Stage West Theatre Restaurant
How many 37-year old musicals can you name that still resonate today? West Side Story still speaks to our harmful ‘them and us’ attitude, My Fair Lady can touch present day nerves about class, appearance and acceptance and Tommy still shines the light on our current religious cult of personality. No doubt there are others. Now ask yourself, how many decades-old musicals are not only resonant but thoroughly modern in their relevance, and I’ll bet that Chicago is the top of a very short list. Dealing with themes of media manipulation, the obsession with fame and the fleeting nature of instant stardom, Chicago could just as easily have been written about a 2013 reality TV, paparazzi, spin doctor world as it was about the windy city in the 1920’s. Add in a slew of jazzy, sexy musical numbers and choreography by the inimitable Bob Fosse, and it’s no wonder that Chicago is one of the longest running shows Broadway has ever seen as well as an Academy Award winning movie.
The latest incarnation in Calgary is brought to us by Stage West Theater Restaurant in an energetic and mostly successful production that stays true to the original and will satisfy fans of the both the stage and film versions. As the show begins, Roxie Hart (fantastically sung, danced and acted by firecracker Marisa McIntyre) shoots the man she’s having an affair with. Thrown in jail, Roxie meets Velma (an underwhelming and somewhat gawky Andrea Wingelaar) a notorious murderess who is the sensational toast of the headline-hungry media. Both women have hired the cutthroat PR savvy lawyer Billy Flynn (the terrific Matt Cassidy) to sell their innocence to jury and make them media stars in the process. But instant fame is fickle as is Flynn’s attentions, and both women have to fight each other as well as other inmates for the media spotlight they crave and the innocent verdict they desire.
The decision to locate a live four-piece band in the centre back of the stage means Director Max Reimer is given a very shallow space to work with and he does so with taut yet spirited direction that never feels crowded or compromised. Which is a good thing because the cast needs room to show off some wonderful dancing. Fans of Fosse will be happy to know that Choreographer Phil Nero doesn’t mess with the master’s signature style and the cast rises to the occasion giving us the sultry, sexy jazz-handy moves we want to see. Standout numbers We Both Reached For The Gun, Me and My Baby and Courtroom Scene explode with outstanding showmanship and receives hearty cheers from the audience.
For those cast members whose role is more about song than dance, this Chicago delivers unevenness. Playing Roxie’s cuckold pushover husband, Amos, Ed Sahely wonderfully milks audience sympathy with his number Mister Cellophane and gets one of the biggest audience reactions when he is finally tossed aside. Conversely, Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan is woefully miscast as the tough talking prison matron Mama Morton. Unable to physically pull off the character’s swagger or vocally settle into the street-talking potty mouth lines, Stepkowski Tarhan is a disappointment despite her strong singing voice.
Having the characters of both Velma and Mama not up to snuff was a distinct let down in the show, but not enough to extinguish the fun of watching Roxie, Flynn and the rest of the cast do their stuff. This production of Chicago might have been missing the full gamut of the ‘old razzle dazzle’, but like the fleeting fame Roxie seeks, disappointments in the show disappear fast to make way for brighter, shinier star moments.
For the guys – No sappy love songs or delicate dance numbers here. Chicago is a sexy scrabble of a musical with great moves, music and lyrics. This cast keeps the pace and will make sure you have fun. SEE IT
For the girls – Sure women are portrayed as fame-whore, adulteress, vapid characters with no heart of gold lurking beneath. But still you can’t help rooting for Roxie and loving McIntyre’s portrayal. Drop any indignation and sing along. SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – Yes, just yes. SEE IT
For the theater junkie – While not a must see (especially if you’ve already seen one version or another) McIntyre’s Roxie is astoundingly good and just might make you forget the others before. MAYBE SEE IT