It’s a fair assumption that, both in nature and reputation, college productions aren’t exactly supposed to be taken too seriously. However, this was not the case for audiences of Ormond College’s recent production of Chicago. The audience were forced to leave any such presuppositions at home as the cast and crew tackled this raunch-fest with surprising professionalism, style and finesse. Chicago tells the tale of two warring jailhouse wannabes, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, as they find that the fame they desire is but a bullet away. As Roxie’s crime becomes the subject of public fixation, an envious Velma begins the show’s central fight for supremacy over the newspaper front page, the jazz-juiced 1920’s vaudeville stage, the hearts of their adoring male admirers, and most importantly, for both women’s ‘innocence’.
Although Chicago is known most famously for its bold, jazzy score, or even perhaps for its slow and sensual choreography, the absolute highlight of Ormond’s interpretation was the utterly superb acting. Both Penelope D’Urso, as Roxie Hart, and Lucy Grant, as Velma Kelly, showcased a true depth of understanding for their characters and delivered every single line with excellent variation, humor and believability and generally great stage presence. Peter Lejin crowned himself as the deserved master of pathos as the woefully forgettable Amos Hart and earned an eruption of sympathetic whimpers from the audience as he antithetically engaged every soul in the crowd with his rendition of ‘Mr. Cellophane’. Rose Jennett played Mama a little less loud and proud than we’re used to seeing her, however it is a welcome change. Jennett instead chose to turn up the ‘mother-hen’ aspects of the character to a new lovable, deviously trustable high. Noah Stzo never missed a beat, portraying Billy Flynn with all the charm and cool one expects of a hotshot lawyer. Of course, I have saved the best for last. I was initially unsure about the choice to cast a male performer, Andrew Udovenya, as the gloriously camp Miss Sunshine. However, from the moment Miss Sunshine entered the stage, as her suspiciously masculine figure was silhouetted and then swiftly doused in the rays of her spotlight, she truly did shine. My main concern was that unless it was altered to suite the male voice range, Miss Sunshine’s vocal part was extremely high. To this problem Ormond’s honestly ingenious solution wasto simply hand the actor a helium filled balloon right at the climax of his solo song, and to watch as the audience giggled as though they’d inhaled some special gas of their own. Touché Director, Izzy Lyndon-James, touché indeed.
Annie Tram deserves an honorable mention for her work as Musical Director and Conductor which lead to the band performing like a well-oiled machine. Another honorable mention goes to Sam Fitzgerald, who was fulfilling the trumpet solos with rich vibrato and tone. Additionally, the choice to seat the band on stage alongside the performers was a wise decision as it beautifully added to the overall atmosphere and intensified the influence the music undoubtedly has over this entire production. Head of Hair, Make Up and Costumes, Emma Haege, pulled out absolutely all stops without trepidation in dressing the actors in a wonderful assortment of black lingerie, glittering-feather-topped show-girl outfits and sequined flapper dresses and dually, Set Designer Anna McArthur-Dowty has designed a wonderfully minimal yet versatile set comprised of an inverted city skyline, catwalk and several prison bars.
In summary, although Ormond College’s ‘Chicago’ is only the first of many college presented musicals to come this semester, it is sure to be one of the best, not only of the year, but of the years to come!
Ormond College’s production of Chicago ran from the 2nd – 4th of August at the Union House Theatre.