Apparently, this entire Just So production was put together in just six weeks. It’s absolutely incredible that they were able to do so much in so little time: the music numbers are numerous, the set pieces are large, and the choreography is elaborate and physically demanding. To pull off even a halfway decent version of this musical in that amount of time would be tricky. Considering what a great job this team did, it’s easy to see that this was a labour of love.
There were certainly some hiccups due to the accelerated timeline. The music at the opening of the show was of questionable quality; the instrumentals improved greatly after the first five minutes, and remained largely on point throughout the rest of the evening, but the show did not start with its best foot forward. There were also a few technical glitches throughout the show — most noticeably at intermission, when the curtain rose and fell several times before finally deciding to close. There were also a few moments when actors’ microphones did not turn on until a few lines into their songs. The actors, admirably, never missed a beat in their acting and singing when their mics were on the fritz.
The set design was relatively simple, but clever: the musicians sat at the back of the stage with a platform on each side for actors to dance on. For the “Cell Block Tango” number, two large movable platforms with tall bars were brought onstage for the actors to dance with. It all worked perfectly for the purposes of the different scenes. My personal favourite stage item, however, was the big “Chicago” sign hanging over the stage; for most of the musical it acted as a backdrop, but in the “Roxie” number it flashed for emphasis every time Catriona Ferguson (Roxie) sang “Roxie!”, adding a great extra touch to an already great performance.
The costumes were typical of Chicago, with most of the women dressed very scantily (lots of fishnet tights). I loved the touch in “We Both Reached for the Gun” where the reporters were played by the actors who had just played the “murderesses” — they wore the same outfits but with large blazers over the top.
The choreography was, on the whole, excellent. Choreographer Caroline Gant did a particularly great job with “Razzle Dazzle”, filling the stage with sequined dancers as Coggin Galbreath’s slimy Billy Flynn showed Ferguson’s Roxie what a circus the justice system really was. The slinkier dance numbers suffered a bit, however, as some of the actors’ sashaying felt coached to the point of being mechanical. Both Ferguson and Catriona Kadirkamanathan (Velma) especially seemed to suffer from this, which is understandable considering how much they must have had to rehearse in a such a short time.
While they put a lot of energy into the big dance numbers, I must admit that my own favourite songs were the quieter, more contemplative ones. Elliot Seth Faber (Amos)’s rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” was a sobering scene, his raw and honest emotion contrasting starkly with Ferguson’s gleeful, selfish “Me and My Baby” right before. Kadirkamanathan shone in many of the bigger numbers (and made me laugh in “I Can’t Do It Alone”) but dazzled alongside Ella-Rose Nevill (Mama Morton) when they slowed down for their dancing-light, irony-heavy duet, “Class.”
In spite of its issues, this production of Chicago was a strong one. The actors took a challenging piece and really made it their own, and the final result was exciting and nauseating in all the right ways.