Reviews | Chicago, Charlie Brown

Theatre Reviews

Chicago: The Musical

Theatre on Brunker and

Novocastrian Players

St Stephen’s Hall, Adamstown. Ends June 24.

CHICAGO has an unusual subject for a musical, with two women who killed men who treated them badly vying for the services of a young lawyer adept at getting “not guilty” verdicts. But the story, based on real events in the title city in the 1920s and with musician John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb drawing on that decade’s bright song styles and burlesque elements, is certainly very entertaining in this production.

As the two women are intent on becoming vaudeville stars, director Ron Gillett and his team draw on that performance style’s variety format. The collection of so-called “merry murderesses” in a women’s jail all wear black evening dress as their prison garb, with each having a colourful image on the uniform which suggests her nature. And a judge at a murder trial is dressed like a circus ringmaster, with the prosecutor in a multi-coloured suit.

The delivery of the songs keeps the audience riveted, with the groovy opening number, All That Jazz, setting the scene, and Cell Block Tango using the lyrics and title dance style to introduce the women in the jail. Likewise, the showiness of Razzle Dazzle, in which lawyer Billy Flynn tells the on-trial Roxie Hart that she will get the jury onside if she captures their imaginations, is swingingly catchy.

Sophie Aked’s Roxie Hart, who slays her lover when he says he is leaving her, is very adept, initially persuading her husband, Amos (Grant Bailey), to say he killed the man when he found him burgling their home. Elissa Shand’s Velma Kelly, a vaudevillian who killed her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together, is equally good at manipulating people, and she and Roxie realise in an amusing duet, My Own Best Friend, that they can only count on themselves.

Jarrod Sansom, as Billy Flynn, brings out in All I Care About the lawyer’s belief that making his clients celebrities will boost his own standing, and Grant Bailey, in Mr Cellophane, realises that while he is supportive of Roxie, he is virtually invisible, with no one taking any notice of him. And Cherie Mackinnon as the women’s prison matron, Mama Morton, in uniforms that glitteringly outshine those of her inmates, makes it sharply clear in her introductory number, When You’re Good to Mama, that prisoners who seek her aid have to make sure that she is well paid for it.

The supporting cast members are proficient in making the characters engaging, among them the other female prisoners, newspaper reporters and court personnel. John Christie, for example, is the story’s scene-setting narrator and the trial judge. And Luke Aspinall makes very entertaining a character that he is not listed in the program as playing, for reasons that audience members will realise when they see the show.

Ian Mossop’s band, sitting as in the vaudeville days on a platform behind the performers, does an excellent job, and the large staging team, including vocals instructor Mary Russ, choreographer Hannah Robertson, and costumer Sharyn Gillett, have helped to create the brightness.     

            ******************

You’re A Good Man,

Charlie Brown

Young People’s Theatre,

at its Hamilton theatre.

Ends June 24.

THIS musical, using the characters in the Peanuts comic strip, follows the style of that work, with one short and amusing episode after another. The structure is demanding of the performers, but the alternating two casts make it a brisk and lively show under the direction of Cassie Hamilton and Riley McLean. In a funny early scene, for example, the title character, pondering why others see him as a failure, has to run quickly to try to catch a school bus, with that background vehicle moving away and the other students on board ignoring his cries.

While the musical covers a day in Charlie Brown’s life, it soon becomes clear that the incidents happen over a year, with an enthusiastic Charlie trying to voice a Valentine Day’s greeting to a female colleague, becoming the victim of an April Fool’s joke by the bossy Lucy, and the youngsters joining passionate pianist and Beethoven fan Schroeder in a celebration of the composer’s birthday.

The story opens with Charlie (played by Jack Twelvetree and Paul Battaglia) being given the sung title greeting by his friends and wondering whether they mean it, particularly as they make remarks about him while moving away. In a subsequent scene, Lucy (Brittany Biles, Jordan Warner) is seen lying on top of a purple grand piano gazing adoringly at Schroeder (Chris Shanko, Harold Phipps) and voicing her passion for him in a song which uses the composer’s Moonlight Sonata music.          

The blanket-carrying Linus (Joshua Hilton, Joe McHugh) sings a bright My Blanket and Me as he daydreams about what it helps him to do, backed by the other children singing and dancing while they hold blankets of many colours. Charlie’s sister, Sally (Taylor Reece, Jasmine Phipps), irate about getting a low mark for a homework assignment, voices to a puzzled Schroeder My New Philosophies in which she voices, to the amusement of the audience, how she sees her future education practices. And the largely-lying-on-top-of-the- kennel dog Snoopy (Nikki Eenink, Alexandra Jensen), who is hungry all day, delivers a fervent Suppertime and accompanying tap dance when Charlie brings the food at nightfall.

The ensemble numbers have the actors working well together, with The Book Report, in which each of the children explain how they are going to write a review of a Peter Rabbit book as a school exercise, having watchers in fits of laughter.

Musical director Alexandra Rigby’s five-member background instrumental team add to the brightness of the songs by writers Clark Gesner and Andrew Lippa, as do the costumes drawn from the comic strips.