Review: Chicago – Blue Fish Theatrical at Schonell Theatre

22 April, 2012 by 1 Comment

Main Image: Supplied Blue Fish Theatrical

It’s good, isn’t it … grand, isn’t it?

Oh I do love a musical! And as far as musicals go, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s satirical slice of razzle dazzle, the murderous Chicago (1975) is a corker. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not one of the four people alive that hasn’t seen one of the many hundreds of productions on stage since its Broadway opening or the 2002 Academy Award-winning Hollywood blockbuster, so I won’t bore you with a recap. But I’ll say this – I’ve never met a Kander and Ebb number I didn’t like. As I drove out to UQ’s Schonell Theatre for the opening night of Blue Fish Theatrical‘s production of the duo’s best known piece, I was crossing my fingers that this company, who bill themselves as ‘Queensland’s hottest independent musical theatre company,’ would pull it off.

Sitting in the dark, the theatre was half-full and the curtain wide-open. Apart from ‘CHICAGO’ up in lights and the band centre, the stage was bare black, and I immediately knew we’d be stepping into a vaudevillian, concert-style interpretation – excellent, just how I like it. I flicked through the program to check out the designer and was surprised to find there wasn’t one, but three.

Director Tony Campbell, Musical Director Julie Whiting and Stage Manager Brett Roberts are billed under Set Design whilst Choreographer Jenny Usher is ‘costume co-ordinator’ – whatever that means. Alarm bells. Too many cooks? Thankfully, by the end of the opening number – Chicago’s anthem ‘All That Jazz’ – my fears were allayed. This Chicago‘s design is slick and minimalist with sexy but not ‘distracting’ costumes. In fact, apart from a few pairs of ill-fitting men’s trousers, the design was wonderfully simple and classy. And what a joy to see a community theatre company cleverly putting their resources into all the right places.

Blue Fish do a good band and this production was no exception. It’s jazz and liquor hot … Julie Whiting and her troupe of talented musicians are just terrific

Tony Campbell, who clearly knows his way around a comedy, played it safe and directed the show by numbers. If you’re looking for a new or ground-breaking re-invention, you won’t find it here. Then again, if it ain’t broke…

An army of leggy, gorgeous dancers (some might say too many) pulled off Bob Fosse’s iconic choreography with aplomb. It’s always such a delight when a dance ensemble can sing, and *gasp* act! Jenny Usher and Ferocious Ladies of the ensemble, take a bow. I did find the blokes a bit mismatched visually but, then again, it’s tough to find a strap of male dancers who can also play bit parts and sing, so I didn’t let it ruin my night.

Awards for ‘nailing the satire by performing with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks’ go to Wade Colbran-Thomas, whose toothily slick and charming legal eagle Billy Flynn was a delight to watch and listen to. Cait Gregor, after a tentative beginning, produced a Roxie Hart who was sassy, skilled and as sweet as a sociopath can be. Their joint effort, along with the ensemble in ‘We Both Reached For the Gun,’ was formidable and the highlight of my night out.

Triple threat Jessica Papst (Velma Kelly) packed a punch in the big numbers, but was less confident vocally in moments of poignancy. That said, she had chutzpah, and timed her biting retorts well. Matron Mama Morton (Natalie Ridoutt), the self-invented ‘countess of the clink’ was youthful, too youthful. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a Matron with a good few decades behind her. Despite her age, Ms Ridoutt was a likeable rogue and gave the role a decent crack.

Talented Marc James made safe choices playing push-over Amos Hart, and Donovan Wagner was suitably ridiculous as the cross dressing Mary Sunshine.

What a joy to see a community theatre company cleverly putting their resources into all the right places

Blue Fish do a good band, and this production was no exception. It’s jazz and liquor hot, and if I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes I’d think they were a recording – that’s how hot! Whilst the tempo felt a touch on the slow side at times, Julie Whiting and her troupe of talented musicians are just terrific.

This is the third Blue Fish Theatrical production I’ve seen, and it was by far the best of the three. The company aims to provide ‘professional quality, affordable theatre’ and, from what I’ve seen, this is the closest they’ve come to fulfilling their manifesto. There were a few niggling vestiges of the less-than-professional-standard still clinging on: the sound could have been better balanced, the director’s notes said nothing about the direction of the show, and what should have been a short, sharp curtain call was positively Tolstoyan. Oh, and if you’re going to smoke a cigarette on stage, smoke a cigarette – or don’t use cigarettes – check out the herbal substitutes, maybe? Taking a fake drag and blowing air out of your mouth sends off the naff alarm fairly quickly. That said, this little Blue Fish is getting bigger and is on its way up. Chicago is worth the ticket. Take your mum … she’ll love Billy.

Chicago is playing at the Schonell Theatre until the 28th of April.

Sita Borhani has a Diploma of Music Theatre from Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, a Bachelor of Music from the University of Southern Queensland, and a Bachelor of Education from Queensland University of Technology. She has worked as a singer, actor, vocal coach and Music/English/Drama teacher. Sita has also studied directing under Lewis Jones at the Empire Theatre. Currently Sita works as a drama teacher at a special school, and is the mother of three soon-to-be-members of the Young Talent Time Team. A lover of almost any type of theatre, she holds a special place in her heart for musicals, even the crappy ones.

One Reply to “Review: Chicago – Blue Fish Theatrical at Schonell Theatre”

  1. Marc James says:

    Thanks Sita, We certainly appreciate you coming along and posting on Greenroom. We’re having a ball and wish we had a longer Brisbane season. See you again, kind regards.