Chicago - The Musical
A Production At Artscape In Cape Town, South Africa
A Cultural Expedition

South Africa South Africa > Western Cape > Cape Town

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 28 March 2008

Murder! Treachery! Deceit! Lies! Thrills! Although that's technically all in a day's work for some of South Africa's parliamentary ministers and their associates, in this case we're talking about Chicago - The Musical, which has returned to Cape Town and is at Artscape until 13 April. You still have two weeks, so if you missed it in 2005 you have no excuse now.

So right before interval I was blinded twice by performer Salomé Sechele discharging the flash on her camera prop to simulate a press photographer taking photographs at the scene of the latest headline story in the making, and then once interval was over Talia Kodesh nailed me twice with her flash, as did one of the male ensemble performers (but by then I was practically blind, so I don't know who it was), but it did give me pause for thought as to how relevant Chicago - The Musical is to today even though it's set in the 1920s. Swap the money-hungry lawyers for press agents and the fame-seeking murderesses for reality-TV "stars", and you could have the latest headline in any national paper or, in fact, even on Perez Hilton's sensationalist site.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Chicago's back in town and it's hard to resist the pull of the sexy seductresses, sly subtext, and stunning ensemble players.

This time around the show has debuted in Cape Town first, before it moves to Johannesburg towards the end of next month, and those that missed the show when it was first staged in 2005 will be glad to know that almost all the principle performers are back, so you will be seeing the same superb performances that made it a hit the first time around.

The show kicks off with Amra-Faye Wright, who plays the celebrity murderess Velma Kelly, and the ensemble in their rendition of All That Jazz. It is a spectacular opening number. At times there is so much happening on the stage that it's impossible to watch all of it, so you miss subtle moments of brilliance from one performer while you're trying to catch those of another. This continues throughout the show with the bigger numbers, which is frustrating, although it makes for a well utilised stage and no dull moments. Early on, for example, look for Salomé Sechele, one of the celebrity judges on SABC2's Strictly Come Dancing, performing a few moves that merely hint at the talent that made her an undefeated Latin dance champion. But if you're focussed on something else happening on the stage, you'll easily miss it.

Chicago - The Musical

Chicago is the story of murderesses on death row trumping each other to be the headline makers of the day, using their notoriety in a bid to woo the public in the search of fame and fortune while they fight to win their cases. The newest kid on the block is Roxie Hart (Samantha Peo), who killed her boyfriend and then tried to have her husband Amos (Pierre van Heerden, in a portrayal that is oddly similar to his role as Pumbaa in The Lion King) take the fall for her. Amos loves his wife dearly but, in Roxie's own words, "aint got the smarts" and her plan backfires. She is sent to death row where she meets vaudeville star and current object of the public's obsession Velma Kelly, who is on trial for killing her husband and sister in a jealous rage. Roxie has big dreams of being on stage herself and, while initially starstruck by Velma's presence, soon realises that the attention she can generate while being incarcerated could lead to stardom and a vaudeville career of her own once she is acquitted.

The rest of the musical portrays Roxie and Velma's attempts at devious one-upmanship in the lead-up to their trials, with the matron of the jail, Matron "Mama" Morton (Ilse Klink), and the celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn (Craig Urbani), adding their particular charms and abilities to the chaos for their own nefarious purposes.

Chicago - The Musical

The show is constructed and presented as a series of vaudeville vignettes, with the members of the ensemble taking on various roles as the cast illustrates notable moments of the storyline.

An example is Cell Block Tango, a spectacular, energetic, wry piece and arguably the highlight of the show, in which we are introduced to the six murderesses already on death row when Roxie arrives, five of whom are played by members of the ensemble who are given a chance to shine in this particular piece. Later, those same ensemble players inhabit other roles, such as members of the press chasing stories and covering the proceedings of Roxie's trial.

Chicago - The Musical: Cell Block Tango

Speaking of the trial, the man to watch at that point is ensemble member Timothy Le Roux, who portrays all the members of the jury. While the antics of Billy and Roxie heat up the centre of the stage, demanding your focus, Timothy quickly slips from one character to the next in a manner in which, if you're not paying attention (or, in fact, even if you are), is quite striking.

The whole, show, though, is a visual masterpiece, with liberal use of chiaroscuro lighting that especially accentuates the dance performances. A notable example is Roxie's verbal tap dance on stage right, near the beginning of act one, which is subtley emphasised on stage left by three of the male ensemble members (Duane Alexander, Grant Almirall, and Timothy Le Roux), who suavely move about in bowler hats while smoking cigarettes whose smoke trails are caught in the light, creating quite an ethereal effect.

While all the members of the cast and ensemble are practically immersed in their characters, inhabiting them with energy that draws you in to their performances in a way that is magnetic, I found one exception in Samantha Peo's portrayal of Roxie. While certainly very good in terms of technical aspects (singing, dancing, American accent), it was lacking that same magnetism that the others exuded. I felt it briefly during her trial scene, at which point I warmed a bit more to her performance, but besides that moment I found myself feeling oddly disconnected every time she was on stage. It was, to me, the only disappointing aspect in a show that is otherwise spectacular.

Finally, with regards to technical aspects, I have only two complaints. The spotlight work was a little out in places, which I assume by now has been rectified with practice, and at times the orchestra is a little too loud, especially in the first half of the show, and this occasionally drowns out the voices of the performers. But these are minor issues and they were not detrimental to the overall experience. On the whole, this is a wonderful show and you can't help but be swept up in it to the point where you will be humming the songs on the way home. The audience I was with, which seemed to comprise many fans of all ages, was engaged with the performers and immensely appreciative of the show, for the most part giving it a standing ovation at the end.

Chicago - The Musical is being presented at Artscape, in Cape Town, until 13 April, at which point it moves to Montecasino's Teatro in Johannesburg. Tickets are available though Computicket.

Special thanks to Zoopy for the use of its media.

Production Information
with Duane Alexander, Grant Almirall, Angelo Collins, Cecil de Jongh, Diani Joubert, Talia Kodesh, Timothy Le Roux, Tandi Meikle, Gary Mills, Natasha Rabe, Jodie Renouf, Salomé Sechele, Nicol Sheraton, Tanya Stricker, Jaco van Rensburg
Producer: Hazel Feldman
Musical Director/Conductor: Bryan Schimmel
Dance Supervisor/Company Manager: Jill Somers
Resident Director: Anton Luitingh

Key Facts (Cape Town Production)
Where: Artscape Opera House, Foreshore, Cape Town | Production Information
Show Times:
  • Tuesday to Friday: 20:00
  • Saturday: 16:00 and 20:00
  • Sunday: 14:30 and 18:30
  • Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes, including 15-minute interval
    Ticket Prices: R100 [?] to R325 [?]
    Additional: The playbill is R40 [?], and there is also an original-cast-recording CD available.

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