Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chicago, Auckland Music theatre 2013, Scube's perspective

We booked a group of over 30 people to see Chicago by ATC on the strength of "Lucy Lawless is in it" and "Michael Hurst is directing", and to be honest I didnt worry too much beyond that.
It’s not often you go to an Auckland show and see a Shortland street actorSHHHH LET ME FINISH! See a Shortland Street actor AND take half the show to recognise who they are. Amanda Billings played the role of Roxy Hart, and was unrecognisable as her Sarah Potts. She blew my mind within her first number, with the assistance of the talented and physically phenomenal Mike Edward. As well as executing her part in the opening song fabulously, she and mike progressively stripped down to their underwear, and gave us a mesmerising perspective of Roxy’s affair and murder through a stunningly choreographed acrobatic dance sequence. I was left wishing she could kill mike again so I could see more, and lo and behold the rest of the cast was happy to fulfil my wish.
The cell block tango had been transformed from the Fosse choreography I am so fond of to something that had me clutching the railing and wishing it would never finish. Each of the girls stepped up and took the stage, building upon the work of the previous actor and repeatedly “killed” Mike in a myriad of acrobatic ways. The scene left him stripped to his underpants and swinging unconscious by his feet above the stage. A veritable human piñata. And  would you believe all this was unbelievably witty?

I had been warned it wasn’t the Chicago I was familiar with but at this point I sat up and took notice.

There were several levels of bravery to this production. It’s a fosse musical, and to be honest I wasn’t 100% enthused about the concept of a fosse without any bloody fosse, but I was willing to be convinced, and boy am I glad I risked it. They stripped back the choreography, the costumes, the set and the usual devices.
It turns out that once you have done that, what is left is a script and score ACHING to be used in a more subversive way, in a more intimate setting, and choreography that asks more of the performers as individuals. It was the difference between Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman reading a book on tape.  You *think* Hugh Grant is as good as it gets, but when you hear Alan Rickman, you realise there is a lot more out there than just shiny and entertaining.

In all seriousness, it’s Lucy Lawless, the blow up dolls, sexy costuming and smut that is making the media, but this show was sexy in so many less tangible ways. Mostly talent. Talent is incredibly arousing, and from the lighting in the ceiling to the painted stage, and all the skills used in-between, this show was pure talent. It wasn’t the hilarious blow up dolls or nipple covers that were titillating. It was the raw energy and power of the acrobatics, the dance, and the obvious love of music. I think the bit that made MY knees go weak was watching the audience respond to the almost constant eye contact, interaction and brilliant off side action from the ensemble. If anyone in that audience missed out on a smile, a filthy wink, a nod, a side eye, a prop, or just feeling like they were immersed, I will be very surprised. The cast were practically in the front row’s lap, and I suspect from about 15 minutes in the audiance members would have happily let them sit there.

Congratulations to the team and especially to Michael Hurst for his direction, Shona McCullagh for choreography that made strangers gasp in unison, John Gibson and the band for the music  that made me want to give the origional score a second chance at love, and those brave enough to let these decisions happen in an arts community as small as Auckland. I assume the sold out shows and extended season reflect that this show has been a financial success, and I hope it inspires more people to walk to the edge of comfortable and look beyond the usual.


  1. She was excellent. Looked younger than most of the 20-somethings in the audiance, and gave velma kelly a great two-faced portrayal, making the audiance love her, even while she bullied Roxy. To be honest I had assumed it was her name rather than her voice that was behind the casting, but she certainly held her own in a strong cast and was wonderful to watch.
    She didnt upstage, and her role was certainly not the lead the way this production was done. It was a fab production as much about the talents of everyone on the entire team as one woman.


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