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Churchill High’s dark ‘Chicago’ shines bright

Alex Turner, a student at South Lakes High School, reviews Winston Churchill High School’s “Chicago” as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

WCH-Chicago-09-3.jpg

Mike Mainwaring, Alexandra Levenson and Aaron Braverman from Winston Churchill High School. (Photo by Joe McCary)

It wasn’t the bright footlights of vaudeville but the dark underworld of adultery and murder that made the two showgirls starring in Winston Churchill High School’s production of “Chicago” shine.

Branded by the legendary styling of its director and choreographer, Bob Fosse, "Chicago" premiered on Broadway in 1975 and received 11 Tony nominations but did not win any. The musical follows the journey of Velma Kelly, star of vaudeville, and Roxie Hart, chorus girl, as they fight to be acquitted of their lovers' murders, while craving the public's attention. Told through the jazz rags of John Kander and Fred Ebb, this dark satire shines a light on the obsession with celebrity.

Ashley Austin and Alexandra Levenson led the cast as Velma and Roxie, respectively. Both projected their voice well, and demonstrated their dancing and acting skills. Steven Rigaux—playing the slimy, money-hungry, lawyer Billy Flynn—effortlessly transformed from a suave womanizer to a shrewd debtor.

Equally engaging was the supporting cast. Josh Simon played Amos Hart, Roxie's husband, with great comedic timing and sincerity. Shelby Sykes, as Matron Mama Morton, was a showstopper with her vocal prowess, sassy acting and stage presence that could light Times Square. With her charm and talent, she commanded the stage.

One of the ensemble’s most captivating scenes was when the Merry Murderesses tangoed through their lovers’ murders. And the production was held together tightly by Aaron Braverman, playing the Master of Ceremonies. From the featured soloists to the backdrop prison security guards, the cast members seemed focused throughout the show.

The hard work was not only evident in the actors, but also the creative students working behind the scenes. The student choreography, for example, honored Fosse’s unique style while creating new and manageable steps for the performers. As students danced, the lights perfectly reflected the mood of each scene with colorful washes, intimate spotlights and gritty shadows.

With numerous microphones on stage, sound proved to be problematic at times, but all the glitches were promptly resolved and none of the hiccups interrupted one of the true highlights of the night: the Chicago Orchestra.

Stationed onstage, the skilled young musicians plowed through the difficult and fast-paced score with ease, as the audience was treated not only to listening them, but also observing them.

Though celebrity obsession is still very much alive in today’s society, Winston Churchill’s ‘Chicago” gives a glimpse into simpler time when celebrity obsession almost seemed justified in the presence of true performers and all that jazz.

By Alex Turner, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  December 16, 2009; 10:28 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2009  
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