One of the special treats that the Edinburgh Fringe brings is yet another opportunity to see some of the bright young American musical talent performing over here. In conjunction with the American High School Theatre Festival, the Short Pump Players from the Godwin High School, Richmond, Virginia were brave enough to attempt the classic 6 Tony award winning Kander and Ebb musical Chicago. Many a famous actor or actress have starred in one of these roles - from Ginger Rogers, Cecil B De Mille and Phyllis Haver in film versions up to Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta- Jones and Richard Gere - a tall act to follow?
Actually for all the fame of this musical, it does lend itself well to small productions with its minimalist scenes and the cast predominantly in black. The scene changes were slick and seamless for all that and the piano and drums sufficient for all the music (even though the drums were a little dominant at times). The dance routines were well executed and the chorus girls, Emily, Laura, Addie, Sarah, Lindsey, Alethea, Marissa and Haley were particularly stunning; sexy and alluring to a point but tastefully done, so as not to offend the general festival audience. Mentioning the audience, I don't think I can recall such a tremendous turn out for a show with almost a full house and their reactions helped spark the performance to a great degree.
Godwin High School poster
As for the main characters? Well for a start, there was an assertive yet smooth performance by Kyle as the lawyer Billy. He was totally in command, yet doing it all for 'love' (and the money of course!). I think Tripp must have had his fan club in for the evening as he held a large section of the audience in the palm of his hand with his downtrodden husband Amos Hart role. Many of the audience around me were 'aagh'ing' in sympathy - or should that be empathy? - with him; maybe a bit of both. Brett's role as the announcer was efficient and effective, if a little annoying as he popped up everywhere, but that is how the show goes, if anyone didn't know the plot by now.
Grace took a rather low key role as 'Matron' (Mamma Morton in the original script). I'm no sure why the name was changed as the early song "When you're good to mamma" appeared to be unaltered.
Elyse as Velma was excellent; good projection of voice, lovely dance routines and some wicked facial expressions at appropriate times.
And finally, Caron as Roxy. Now I may upset some folk here but I think her performance was a little too polished for the role. For the dizzy blonde look I expected something a little more sassy, even common but it appeared to me that she played it too straight; after all Roxy was a night club singer/dancer and a murderess not somebody auditioning for a part in the choir.
This is a pivotal role. Perhaps I'm being a little too hard on Caron for being a little too sweet as she comes to terms with the parallel theme of the reality of shooting her lover with the fantasy world she was living in: being a temporary media 'star'. Maybe I've been biased by the way Denise Van Outen played it (comparisons are odious but unavoidable) and with Caron's little dizzy blonde looks perhaps I was expecting more of a Bette Midler coming out. But hey! These are High School players not men and women of the world. With their limited life experience they still put in a sterling performance which went down extremely well with the audience, and to a certain extent, that is what matters.
As for the production, as a whole? It was very well done within the confines of the 1 ½ hours allotted to them. The songs and the choreography were well executed (no pun intended). It was very evident that they have all worked very hard to get to this level of performance. The sound system had a couple of small hiccoughs but nothing really to detract from our enjoyment. In fact the head microphones which some wore gave a much better quality of sound than I have experienced from previous productions.
And the moral of the story about murder and the subsequent manipulation of the legal process obviously had to be set in the context of prohibition USA, but it still resonates today around the world; 'celebrity' trials such as O J Simpson have done nothing more than reinforce what the writers were attempting some 81 years previous, and to which this cast did credit!
Performances: Aug 7, 8, 9,10th
© Julian Davis 12/08/2007. First published on www.edinburghguide.com