Five Stars for Chicago!


Peter Ryan, Staff Writer

In Friends Select’s 2019 Spring musical, the cast of Chicago transported the opening night audience to the roaring 1920’s with ease using hand fans, double breasted suits, and flapper dresses. Closing on a grand number from scandalous vaudeville murderers Roxie (Claire McHarg [’20]) and Velma (Sara Kelly [’20]), the show received vigorous applause from a crowded lower level. Filled with sleaze, scandal, and all that jazz, Chicago hit all the bases, especially when engaging the whole cast in dramatic dance numbers. In “Cell Block Tango,” which may have been the best designed and executed number, six young women, including Velma (under the pseudonym of Cicero), gave shocking detail of their mariticides. Roxie, who faces prosecution for the murder of her lover Fred, soon becomes acquainted with this prison crew.

As she begins her journey in jail, she meets Mama Morton (Kourtney Hargrove [’20]), a sort of agent for the prisoners who works to satisfy their high maintenance needs in exchange for cash. Mama Morton works in tandem with lawyer Billy Flynn (Avery Johnson [’19]) to groom the prisoners into club starlets once Flynn’s charismatic work in the courtroom sees the girls acquitted. Perhaps no actor better captured the age of the show than Avery, who expertly played up the scummy and cunning prohibition era artifice of his character. Avery plans to pursue a career in acting after his time at Friends Select.

An important underlying theme of the show is the rivalry between the rising Roxie and washed-up Velma, who is losing her star as she spends more time in jail. Continuing their animosity in acts like “My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays,” Velma and Roxie become more hostile towards one another throughout the show. While Sara’s Velma is often subtle in her public embrace of the role of “bad girl”, Claire’s portrayal of Roxie was as overtly scandalous as one could have been, laughing at her husband in public and faking a pregnancy to promote her reputation.

Among all of these strong personalities, though, the audience’s favorite character may have been Amos Hart (Yannick Haynes (’20)), the blindly loyal husband of Roxie. As both comic and emotional relief, Amos pays for Roxie’s legal fees and falsely believes that her fake baby is his, even though it is physically impossible that he could be the father. By mastering the happy-go-lucky speech of Amos’ character, Yannick gave the audience a brief break from the other malicious characters in the show, and, although he is not normally a singer, sang “Mister Cellophane” in the second act.

The show ends with a courtroom scene. Roxie is found not guilty, only for the courtroom audience to shift their focus to a new woman criminal on the street. This end represents the culture in jazz-age Chicago– stars fall as fast as they rise, and there’s a new flavor of scandal and excitement every few weeks.

The choreography of the primary characters was strong, but perhaps more impressive was the subdued yet effective background dancing, comprising many subtle gestures and gentle accompaniments. Along with the ensemble cast, the stage crew, led by Max Budnick, steered the show along excellently.

In their premiere performance, the cast of Chicago was excellent without any live show experience under their belt, and they look well suited to bring “All that Jazz” to the table in their final two shows.