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Winston Churchill High School Chicago

By • Nov 17th, 2009 • Category: Cappies

Tap dancers, glittery tailcoats, acrobats, and a man riding a gargantuan unicycle? It’s just another typical criminal trial during Chicago’s Jazz Age, when a fat paycheck and a dose of the old ‘razzle-dazzle’ was enough for anyone to get away with murder, adultery, and all that jazz.

John Kander and Fred Ebb’s hit musical Chicago first opened on Broadway in 1975, with a 1996 production holding the record for longest running revival in Broadway history. A vaudeville style show with just as much glitz and glamour as grit and gore, Chicago is the tale of two stunning young murderesses and the unscrupulous lawyer who handles their cases.

In Winston Churchill High School’s production of Chicago, Ashley Austin led the cast as vaudevillian-turned-killer Velma Kelly, with her smoky vocals and edgy gracefulness. Her chemistry with prison matron Mama Morton (Shelby Sykes) carried the showstopper “Class,” as well as several delicious dialogue scenes. Sykes’ boundless charisma and soulful powerhouse voice made Mama Morton appealing without sacrificing the air of respect that her character demanded.

Alexandra Levenson demonstrated strong comedic chops, dance ability, and self-possession as Roxie Hart, a murderous housewife with a soft spot for the spotlight. She especially shone in her scenes with Billy Flynn (Steven Rigaux), who alternated between silver-tongued charmer and hard-edged mercenary with equal ease. His smooth, resonant singing voice and Levenson’s comic prowess were particularly notable in the hilarious ventriloquist act “We Both Reached For The Gun.”

Ironically, the most memorable performance of the night was given by Josh Simon as Amos Hart, Roxie’s sad sack husband who spent most of his stage time quietly lamenting his lack of attention and appreciation. Simon’s sensitive and emotional portrayal made him the most sympathetic and real character in the show.

A strong ensemble of dancers and singers fleshed out the vaudeville concept, including a quartet led by gifted tap-dancer Josh Kaufmann and the gang of six rag-tag ‘Merry Murderesses,’ who stole several scenes with their quirky mannerisms and energetic dancing. Bluma Millman was particularly haunting as Hunyak, the only truly innocent inmate. The many vignettes were expertly connected by the velvet-voiced Master of Ceremonies (Aaron Braverman) while the orchestra provided professional quality accompaniment to the jazzy musical numbers.

Actors remained unfazed by some of the sound and other technical errors in the first act, while stage crew (Maggie Pelta-Pauls, Lindsay Horikoshi, Nick Sines, and Phil Korpeck) made smooth transitions between the different settings. Jon Feldman‘s lighting added the right amount of ‘dazzle’ without becoming distracting, and makeup by Sarah Bonner, Carla Pena, and Elana Stein looked both glamorous and period-appropriate. Though the action onstage sometimes seemed cluttered and unfocused, with smaller roles distracting from leads, choreography by Thalia Ertman, Ryan Kanfer, Josh Kaufmann, and Ariana Nasser succeeded at putting a new spin on the classic Fosse choreography.

Overcoming obstacles ranging from sound glitches to censorship controversies, the sparkling cast, crew and orchestra of Winston Churchhill High School’s Chicago took the stand and put on a ‘killer’ show.

by Megan Fraedrich of West Springfield High School

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is a program which was founded in 1999, for the purpose of celebrating high school theater arts and providing a learning opportunity for theater and journalism students. You can learn more at cappies.com.

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