REVIEW: Ballenas production of ‘Chicago’ hits all right notes

(Emily Vance photo)
(Emily Vance photo)

Twice-weekly rehearsals since September paid off for the cast of the Ballenas Secondary production of ‘Chicago’.

The cast of students, who were all born almost a century after the play was written, pulled off the American musical with flying colours. From the main characters’ vocal deliveries, to the cell-block tango girls’ lightening quick costume changes, the production went smoothly from beginning to end.

Although the production (which ended its run at the Whalebone Theatre on Feb. 28) was a high school version of the play, one slightly toned down from the scandalous original, the content was still mature.

If you didn’t know the original play, you wouldn’t have left feeling like you saw anything other than the real deal. They delivered raunchy jokes and owned their parts, many of whom are adulterous murderers.

READ MORE: All that jazz: Parksville high school students gear up for ‘Chicago: High School Edition’

Rather than crowding the stage with props, the stage was kept bare and simple.

This was a good choice, leaving less room for the production to look unprofessional. As an audience member, the minimalism of the set isn’t notable. Rather, you just end up focusing more on the actors, which were lit up often just by a spotlight.

We first meet Velma, played by Jessica Kelly, who delivers multiple vocal numbers with conviction and aptitude. She delivers the first number of the production, ‘All That Jazz’, and sets the tone for the rest of the musical.

Each soloist who is comes on builds on the foundation Kelly built.

Roxie, played by Allison Poole, has a voice perfectly suited for the jazz numbers. She embodies her character, who is self-absorbed, in a believable and endearing way.

She’s perfectly funny at all the right moments.

A highlight of the play is Big Mama, played by Max Hannah. Hannah dons a thrown-together drag costume for the role, and commits to ever second of his performance.

His delivery was far from trite, and it never felt like he was not taking his role as Big Mama 100 per cent seriously.

An excellent casting choice from director Doug Campbell, Hannah brings a 2020 sense of freshness to Chicago that, perhaps, only a young man in high school could.

Other high points included Billy Flynn, played by George Perkins, and Amos, played by Joe Panych.

Their characters are complete opposites, and it made their interactions some of the most satisfying in the play.

Panych played a sad man who can’t say no, with a candor unique to his embodiment of Amos. When he asks for his exit music, to no avail, you’re actually left sad and sorry.

Also keeping it together: MC Quinton Clothier’s hilarious and deadpan delivery; dancers Fiona Williams and Harmony Regan’s elegant moves and a great performance by Luke McMillen, playing Fred and Sara McLeod, playing Mary Sunshine.

It’s one of the most popular musicals around, and one of the most entertaining when done right — and the cast and crew at Ballenas did just that.

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