Chicago — A Love Letter to the Theatre

I’m a big theatre lover. My parents always used to take our family to the Artscape, KKNK and other cultural events as much as possible growing up. Now that I’m making my own money, there always seems to be something a little more important than going to watch a show, like buying food, or paying rent. However, when I found out that Chicago would be coming to the Artscape, I was beyond excited and knew I had to go no matter what. We were lucky enough to receive complimentary tickets to go watch the show over the weekend, and I couldn’t contain my excitement.

I’ve watched the movie a handful of times — ok, maybe more like two handfuls — and I saw the live show on the West End when I was in London ten years ago. Because of this, I know most of the songs off by heart, and I had a clear picture of how I’d like the characters to look and act, and I was not disappointed.

I won’t rehash the whole story — for that you can watch the show yourself! I’ll be focusing on why it’s so worth it to splurge a couple of hundred rands to visit the theatre whenever possible, rather than watching the movie.

First of all, the excitement in the Artscape Opera house was palpable. Most of the audience dressed up in their own version of 20s Chicago fashion, which created an instant feeling of camaraderie. When the curtain lifted, a hush fell over the audience, and you could tell everyone was completely in the moment and ready to be blown away over the next two and a half hours.

Of course, a show set in Chicago in the 1920s wouldn’t be the same without the classic Chicagoan accent, and the cast delivered on that front. The entire cast is South African, but almost everyone managed to pull of the nasal twang perfectly, without sounding too over the top, or too much like a Saffa. A special mention has to be made of Velma Kelly (played by Samantha Peo), whose accent is perfectly spot on. Besides the accent, her whole performance is flawless. She looks the part to a T, her singing voice is absolutely phenomenal, and she moves so gracefully, you’d think she was born wearing jazz shoes.

A special nod needs to be given to the casting — the characters looked and played their parts perfectly. Roxie Hart (played by Carmen Pretorius), has the perfect mix of sweet and sultry, and Matron Mama Morton (Ilse Klink) confidently steps into- and fills – Queen Latifah’s shoes! Another special mention has to go to Mr Cellophane himself, Amos Hart (Grant Towers) who does a great job encapsulating the wispy and barely-there feel of Amos, while still being able to command the stage when needed.

The ensemble cast and the live band are what really sets apart the live show from the movie. The jazz band is placed center stage, rather than in the orchestra pit, which makes them feel as if they are part of the show — which they are! Their subtle jokes and involvement in the show keeps you on your toes, always waiting for the next person to break the fourth wall. The ensemble cast all play multiple parts throughout the show, from the ladies doing the Cell Block Tango to the jury at Roxie’s trial. They’re excellent dancers and vocalists who can walk the line between commanding the stage when needed and blending into the background when it’s someone else’s turn in the spotlight. And of course, there’s some serious eye candy on stage, for both the gents and the ladies.

The songs are performed incredibly well; and my personal favourites are the Cell Block Tango (of course), Mr Cellophane, and especially Samantha Peo’s excellent rendition of Velma Kelly’s I Can’t Do It Alone. The cast and band manage to make the songs their own while still staying true to the source material, and the choreography and lighting are excellent and helps draw you into the moment.

For me, theatre is an experience, it’s not just about the actors, or the music, or the story, the props, or anything else, but rather about the whole experience. The way props, lighting, music, voices, bodies and sound effects are used throughout the show is a testament to the magic of theatre, and serves as a reminder as to why it’s totally worth it to spend a few hundred rand and a few hours living in the moment at the theatre.

Chicago The Musical will be running at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town until the 14th of April 2019, and tickets range between R200 and R400. If you’re up North, you can catch the show in the Teatro at Montecasino between the 20th of April and the 26th of May.

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