Chicago, Wolverhampton Youth Music Theatre, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - review

Kander and Ebb's tale of "Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery - all those things we hold so near and dear to our hearts," is wowing the audiences at the Arena Theatre this week, as Wolverhampton Youth Music Theatre hit the ground running with Chicago (High School Edition).

The cast of Chicago
The cast of Chicago

Currently the longest running American musical in Broadway's history, Chicago leaves a trail of awards and stars in its wake and is as popular as ever, whether it be the hard-hitting professional version, or the age appropriate youth show WYMT offer.

Imprisoned for murdering her lover, wannabe star and Chicago broad, Roxy Hart is unscrupulous in engineering her rise to fame, but soon meets her match in double murderess Velma Kelly, during her stay in the Cook County jail.

Aided, abetted and indeed exploited by corrupt lawyer, Billy Flynn, the two "ladies" scramble to outdo each other in their race to their trials and ultimately to the top.

From the moment the show opened, it was obvious this was not your average youth theatre production and that a very special evening's entertainment was about to unfold.

To take on such iconic, unique musical with a group of such young performers is one thing, but then to create the show in just a two-week intensive rehearsal period is another, yet WYMT have done just that.

The cast, under the direction of Ben Cole, performed like seasoned professionals in this slick production which oozed polished performances.

Tammy Mann offered an outstanding portrayal of Roxie, with a wonderfully rounded dramatic performance, exceptional vocals, great comedic timing and perfect characterisation. She established a tangible rapport with her audience from the off and settled into her role with ease. Her natural delivery of her solo, Roxie, was worthy of a West End performance.

Her partner in crime, Jordanne Farley-Moss as Velma, was quirky and tough and attacked some of the hardest numbers in the show, including I Can't Do It Alone and When Velma Takes the Stand with confidence and passion.

Peter Harrison as Roxie’s long-suffering hubby Amos, brought a tear to the eye with a superb rendition of Mr Cellophane and there was a great little cameo from Luca Marandola as the cop, first on the scene of Roxie's crime. He's definitely one to watch!

Emma Walters belted out her solo as Mama Morton with self-assurance and style, while Ella Darrell played the extremely difficult role of Mary Sunshine with class.

The score of Chicago is peppered with a whole host of gritty show stoppers and this cast romped their way through all the favourite company numbers, including the sultry opening number, All That Jazz, the toe-tapping Me and My Baby, the glamorous Razzle Dazzle and the unique, fast-paced Both Reached for the Gun, all of which were highlights.

The strong ensemble coped well with Kalvin Lamey's contemporary choreography and there was a particularly outstanding dance performance by Devon Nelson whose technique, style and strength certainly stood out.

The Six Merry Murderesses whipped through the legendary Cell Block Tango, which Kalvin has given a new, fresh look, with modern moves, but the routine still retained Fosse at the core and the menace that this unique and unforgettable number brings. Husbands and lovers beware!

But the evening really belonged to the exceptional talents of Jacob Kohli as Billy Flynn, who offered a vocal performance which certainly belies his seventeen years, the perfect capture of his character's ruthless, cut-throat approach hidden behind the smile and quick-witted delivery of comedy lines, which both captivated and charmed his onlookers. That boy is going places for sure!

There's little need for props and scenery on the Arena stage and just a few chairs completely did the trick, with the help of sixteen-year-old Jamie Harley's atmospheric, dazzling lighting plot and design, which almost stole the show.

Musical Director Karl Babarczi kept a tight rein on the band, emulating the distinctive Chicago sound and a special mention must go to Diane Spencer for her well-chosen period costumes which brought just enough glamour and authenticity to the piece without swamping her young cast.

WYMT's winning combination of clever casting, hard work and young talent will certainly make Chicago the show you are "gonna wait in line to see!"


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