CHICAGO THE MUSICAL - NODA REPORT
Thank you for inviting me to your latest production to cover for your usual District Rep and for arranging a parking spot for me. I know parking in High Wycombe is often a problem and this courtesy was much appreciated. I gather you had a near sell out with this show, well done! So lucky too that you just got your performances completed before you had to suffer all the cancellations that other companies in the country are experiencing at present. It is heartbreaking after so much work too. Of course, this has had a knock-on effect for shows which are scheduled for later in the year as most companies are unable to rehearse.
You produced a very nice programme too which evoked the period well although I think that the reproduction of Ben Peapell’s photographs could have been a tad better as the contrast was very dark.
Wycombe Arts Centre is an unusual venue as it was once obviously a church. Using the old chancel as the stage with the band up high at the back worked very well, especially as the two huge arched entrances SL and SR – presumably originally side chapels and the vestry – lent themselves to all your exits and entrances as well as providing storage for some of Katy Mitchell’s props. All the back stage area was organized efficiently by SM Stewart Mason.
I did wonder originally what the sound would be like because, as in most old churches, the arched roof was very high but due to your excellent sound designer and operator, Jack Comerford, it all worked better than it often does in a traditional theatre space. The balance between the band and the vocalists was excellent at all times too.
The same can be said for the lighting rig, designed by Peter Sims – the scaffolding holding the stage lights was all well placed and the two technicians, Andrew Piggin and Isabel Whittaker alongside the three follow spot operators, Peter Humphrys, Peter Rose and Rob Watkins, created a magical environment.
Your Director, Heather Bustin, MD, Anton Gwilt and Choreographer, Amy Roberts, produced a marvelous show between them – singing was universally excellent, the dancers were all well rehearsed and moved well and Heather made maximum, not to mention inventive, use of the space available, seating some of the ensemble singers in full view of the audience just under the band, so some of them could come and go in order to fill some of the smaller speaking roles. Good use of the old church pulpit too and the cast entrances from the audience especially during the Overture.
This ‘coming and going’ was very well managed – we hardly noticed when a member of the ensemble quietly left their place and reappeared as a minor character; I want to add that this was most impressive.
The costumes were all excellent, congratulations Katy Mitchell and Susan Britnell. I loved the speed with which Mary Sunshine’s dress was ripped off! One small point – tights should have been seamed for the period, an eyebrow pencil up the back of the legs gives the right effect, as long as the line is straight of course, if seamed legwear is not available. Billy’s three-piece suit and fob watch were excellent touches too.
Clive Tilly and Jacqui Pirie were responsible for the hair and this aspect was also really good. As for Jacqui’s make up – well I can’t praise it highly enough. Too often actors are under made up with the result that features, notably eyes and lips, seem to recede. Make up is needed under modern stage lights, maybe not the heavy greasepaint of the past but enough to create a sense of character as well as time and place. All aspects of the cast’s appearance was absolutely right for the show so well done to you all.
Everyone of you who played one of the aforementioned minor characters was excellent, especially Stuart Riley as Fred Casely who had to re-enact his murder several times.
Nick Blanks made an excellent Master of Ceremonies with just the right touch of showmanship to move the story along.
Helen Brown as Velma Kelly and Bella Norris as Roxie Hart gave us two superb performances. You maintained good accents, both in speech and song; your facial expressions told the audience such a lot about your characters - which you expressed beautifully. Hard to pick out ‘best performed’ numbers from either of you as you were consistently so good – although All That Jazz was a real showstopper as sung here by Helen and Roxie’s Me and My Baby was an absolute joy. Bella, a very good mime with the reporter during Funny Honey.
Lucy Newell also gave a superb performance as Matron Morton – When You’re Good to Mama was a knock out number. I can honestly say that I have not heard this number sung better – even when I saw the latest professional version in London. I loved the way you organized the girls on their first entrance during the Overture.
Cell Block Tango was very well sung and danced by the Merry Murderesses, Helen Brown, as Velma Kelly with Caroline Arnett-Wilsher (Liz), Leah Brown (Annie), Hayley Turay (June), Natalie Eagling (Hunyak) – whose incomprehensible Hungarian was excellent - and Annie Watt (Mona).
The hapless Amos was another very well played characterisation from Mark Bolkonsky.. Great performance of Mr Cellophane Mark – again probably the best performances of this particular number I have seen on stage.
The smooth tongued lawyer, Billie Flynn was portrayed for us by Nathan Curzon. You came over as a slick chancer and judged your performance very well. Razzle Dazzle was your showstopper and we, the audience, loved it.
M Harcourt played Mary Sunshine – although I had to hunt through the programme for this name as it was not included in the cast list! Lovely bit of falsetto singing ‘M’ in A Little Bit of Good. Nice simper too!!!!
A most enjoyable evening – but one word of warning. As the audience exited through the small car park I think all those within earshot were startled to hear one cast member shrieking to her friends who were waiting for her – ‘Ooh, we made so many mistakes!’ Please don’t do this – you knew there were errors, but we did not! Bit of a downer I am afraid.
I wish MAOS all success with future shows, let’s hope we can all get back to rehearsing and performing soon.
NODA London Regional Rep Districts 11 and 11A