BWW Review: CHICAGO (HSE) Brings the Heat at Ignite Theatre Company
Jørgen Pedersen makes his musical directorial debut with Chicago (High School Edition) featuring the talented youth at Ignite Theatre Company, and here's something fun: it features an all-female cast! The fine performers at Ignite (whose mission involves inclusion of performers from all walks of life - yay!) deliver a sassy and entertaining production, and despite one's assumption that a high school edition of Chicago might be watered-down and too tame to enjoy, these ladies bring it hard in their fishnets and fringe.
You'll get a pared-down version of the original for sure, but the elements are still intact: it's the roaring twenties in Chicago, and Roxie Hart (Olivia Diaz) has murdered her lover and blamed it on her husband, Amos (Sadie Neufeld-Wall). Now on death row awaiting her trial date, Roxie meets another "merry murderess" Velma Kelly (Moira Healy) along with slick-talking attorney Billy Flynn (Amirah Bauder), who has his own agenda, along with the Matron "Mama" Morton (Sydney Fendler), who definitely has her own agenda. The competition between Velma and Roxie heats up as they both crave the spotlight and the biggest headline, in a messed-up, disturbing variation on the American Dream. This show has murder. Greed. Treachery. Adultery. And so much more!
Notable numbers, of course, include "All That Jazz" where the company members, a.k.a. residents of the cell block, open the show in striking all-black costumes, shaking and shimmying in sync while displaying powerful singing voices. It is apparent right away that there's a lot of talent in this small space, and with barely a breath between, they follow all that energy shortly by an aggressive "Cell Block Tango," with the glammed-up tough girls making us even more certain they are not to be messed with. Diaz delivers a fun rendition of "Roxie" and Neufeld-Wall is stunning in a sad, soft version of "Mr. Cellophane" until a shockingly good belty finish. Healy starts and finishes strong, and Fendler, whose stage presence is undeniable, sends the audience into big applause with a sultry "When You're Good to Mama." A special mention also goes out to Riannah Bauder for her Fred Casely crime reenactment in Act 2, which is awesomely hilarious, and to Amirah Bauder for her acting throughout, but especially in "We Both Reached for the Gun," where her character Flynn appears to be literally puppeteering Roxie through Roxie's testimony.
There were a couple of microphone glitches on opening night, but honestly, the actors are so loud that they probably could have done the whole show sans mics. The Cellblock Band (Kelly Demann on percussion, Ron Foster on brass, David Metzger on reed, Cameron Nollman on piano, and Sam Revilla as Music Director and on piano) was loud too, but great from their post underneath the stage, which was composed solely of red-painted, stripy risers suggestive of prison bars.
Libby Pederson's costumes are fabulously suggestive but not too revealing, utilizing lots of blacks and reds, which are striking and bold. Cecily King's choreography is nice too, with lots of interesting steps, and even some Fosse-like moves!
Chicago (High School Edition) with book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins with script adaptation by David Thompson and music editing by Paul McKibbins, plays through July 28 at The Marcelle. For ticket and info, visit www.ignitewithus.org.