Review: Glass Ceiling Theatre’ Chicago, Dolman Theatre, Newport

“Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle!” sings Billy Flynn in Chicago. As Glass Ceiling Theatre premiered their presentation of the hit musical at Newport’s Dolman Theatre on Thursday evening, razzle dazzle was exactly what the ensemble cast did.

Set in Chicago during the roaring 20s, the musical tells the story of two rival vaudevillian murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, both locked up in Cook County Jail for crimes of passion. However, the jailhouse and courtroom subsequently become a stage for the worlds media as Roxie and Velma give the performance of a lifetime in order to regain their freedom or face certain death for their crimes.

Chicago not only puts the ensemble cast centre-stage but also its musicians. Frequently in theatre, the band are hidden in an orchestra pit, but on this occasion, under the direction of Victoria Bryant the band are all present on stage, bringing an extra dimension to both presentation and performance.

The roles of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly are in the very capable hands of Demi Hartry and Morgan Meredith.  Providing the right element of sass, style and energy, both ladies are clearly having a ball while maintaining an air of naturalness, even when breaking the fourth wall on occasion and addressing the audience in song or in dialogue. Stand out moments include Miss Meredith’s raunchy rendition of And All That Jazz and Miss Hartry’s performance of Tap Dance, both of which, along with the supporting cast, encapsulate the vaudevillian style to perfection.

As the story unfolds, all performers remain in their dance costumes, be they taking the roles as judge, jury, journalists or jailbirds. However, with choreography from Emily John and some dynamic pacing, the cast continue to pull the audience into the heart and soul of the musical.

Cellblock Tango is a fine example of dark comedy meets slick choreography as merry murderesses Claire Tucker, Jessica Ellen Doolan, Alys Shore, Nicole Cleaton and Savannah Mountain join Morgan Meredith for quirky confessionals of arsenic poisoning and frenzied shootings.

Zoe Southcott gives one of her finest performances to date as “Mama” Morton, the go-to Matron of The Jail who always gets things done at a price. Miss Southcott’s chanteuse-soaked rendition of When You’re Good to Mama is simply unmissable.

Jordan Leigh turns out a slick and strong performance as roguish lawyer, Billy Flynn, balancing comedy and drama to perfection (check out the trial scene as Flynn operates Roxie as a ventriloquist’s dummy). Leigh also hits the right notes on They Both Reached For The Gun and Razzle Dazzle. Big performances in both instances and pure magic!

Other strong performances include Darian Thomas, as Roxie’s downtrodden husband, Amos. Blending comedy with tragedy, Thomas as Amos gets much in the way of sympathy from the audience but also his own moment to shine when he sings Mr Cellophane.  A subtle show-stealer is Savannah Mountain’s sensitive portrayal of Hunyak, a merry murderess who is convinced of her own innocence right up until her ultimate rope trick.  Meanwhile, David Jones gives a shrill but fun performance as newspaper reporter Mary Sunshine.

Finishing on a glittering performance from Demi Hartry and Morgan Meredith of Nowadays and Hot Honey Rag, (complete with hats and canes) Glass Ceiling Theatre’s Chicago delivers top class entertainment up to its final moments.

Featuring all the razzle dazzle you could wish for in a stage musical, Chicago continues at Newport’s Dolman theatre until Saturday March 23, 2019.