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They Razzle Dazzled Us: A Chicago Review

Posted 03/16/2008 by Manny Perez

“If you’d have been there. If you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same.”
by Manny Perez

CHICAGO copy_1.jpg    Thomas Jefferson High School students and staff members have always had reasons to be proud of their school. Achievements in athletics are always met with trophies and awards. Accomplishments in learning and academics are emphasized with ceremonies and certificates. There is always a reward for those who exert incredible force while in their climb towards success here at TJ. What of  the Drama Department and their latest effort, Chicago?
    They strive for no trophy, nor any certificate, nor any celebration, nor ceremony, nor prize of any sort. The cast and crew’s single request is simple and modest: an audience.  An audience that may or may not choose to applaud, but they did applaud for this show. The audience could only clap, whistle, and shout as the most spectacular epic in recent TJ memory was performed before them.
    Specifically, the entire spectacle was such a plethora of talent bursting from so many unexpected sources, that plainly saying “Chicago was good” would be deemed as hideously understated. Every single aspect of Chicago was in effect spellbinding and awe-inspiring. Music, acting, vocals, lighting, backdrops, scenery, the cast itself.  Chicago was a cornucopia of amazement that left the crowd not only open-mouthed, but granting the play and its creators accolades of ovation after ovation. They deserved roses.
    Chicago was first a book written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, later turned into a musical with the music accompanying it being written by John Kander and lyrics written by Fred Ebb once again. Chicago follows the story of Roxie Hart, a young woman in the 1920s trying to become a world-renowned performer – doing whatever it takes to get there. The musical plays with the themes of a celebrity-criminal and the easily persuaded opinion of the public and its ultimate power.
    Senior Aubrey Becker played the role of Roxie Hart in TJ’s rendition of the musical, and did so incomparably. The character was a difficult one involving much more acting, singing, and dancing, than any other role in show, but Becker displayed Roxie naturally and easily. Although a few of the dance moves were somewhat hard to pull off, Becker’s voice and movements were higher-up among the many highlights of the show and had the auditorium transfixed and catcalling.
    Devi Browne was also one of the top actors, portraying the washed-up and desperate Velma Kelly, another famous murderess who competes with Roxie for the limelight – much to her annoyance. With a voice full of emotion and power, Browne and Becker rocked the stage together, combining in a fusion of talent and flair. Tremendous voice and acting aside, Browne participated in some very impressive dances and swift solos that had the crowd gasping. One particularly great performance, the Cell Block Tango, gave Browne the chance to first reveal her impassioned voice along with some elaborate flamenco exhibitions, which were equaled, if not surpassed, by her fellow Cell Block Girls.
    Visually though, no woman could surpass the elegant and sophisticated portrayal of “Mama” Morton by Blair Moore. Warden and matron to the female criminals, Mama intelligently manages and helps both Roxie and Velma along the road toward fame, riding on the backs of their criminal records. Submerging herself in the role, Moore took to the stage with such an air of intellect and allure as to be one of the more unexpected surprises of the show, and one without flaws.
    The men of the show were in no way outdone by their feminine counterparts.
    Chris Wolter, acting the part of Amos Hart, Roxie’s husband, commanded the role with such brilliance as to become one of the best reasons for this reporter to have seen the show. The role of Amos was dependant on convincible acting and good singing ability. Wolter provided both, transcended them, then waited patiently as the crowd collected their jaws from the floor. The solo Mister Cellophane had everyone stupefied and amazed. His opera-house voice could hold notes for as long one could keep gasping that he’s still holding it. Chris Wolter became Amos Hart for those three magical nights, and was king of the stage.
    Or at least until Nelson Barry arrived.
    Playing the role of Billy Flynn, Barry did nothing less than transform the fedora-wearing character into a devil of style and experienced street-smarts. Singing takes on an important position when reproducing Billy Flynn, and while Barry’s voice wasn’t as breathtaking as some of the other cast’s, it was robust in its own right. The song All I Care About being a perfect example of Barry’s mastery of the role. Cool is the optimum word that comes to mind when describing Mr. Flynn, and mesmerizing is the word that comes when describing Nelson Barry.
    And then there was Mary Sunshine played by Aaron Loffelmacher. Dressed in the most ridiculous assortment of Sunday dresses and flamboyant feather hats, Loffelmacher need only be in one corner of the scene to inspire an eruption of giggles. Let him alone to speak, and the entire crowd is forced toward hilarity. Let him alone to dance and sing, and…well, we were thankful the walls were sturdy. Although the role seems simplistic in the realm of acting range, singing aptitude, and meticulously practiced choreography, Mrs. Sunshine quickly became one of the musical’s favorite appearances, and rightly so thanks to the anything but simplistic talents of Aaron Loffelmacher.
    The company of the show really took some of the spotlight from the more underlined actors, and nowhere is this more apparent then in the trial scene. Watching them flock about the stage as they were preparing the seats, and later on gasping and applauding to Mr. Flynn’s story was beyond entertaining. Subsequently, they instantly become reporters, photographers, clerks, doctors, nurses, judges, lawyers, lovers, background dancers, and all throughout they did so with grace and precision.
    There was also the very specialized part of the narrator, which took the spot of introducing the audience into every song and act. Sinjin Jones played this role sleekly and with style, along with the part of Roxie’s ex-lover Fred Casely. In addition to his multiple roles, Mr. Jones was also the Student Director of the play.
    But thus far we sing the praises of only the visible individuals involved in this production.
    Literally behind the scenes, up above, down below, and even right on stage, belong some of the subtler, yet no less important, talent that made Chicago the monumental achievement it was.
    The music performed was nearly flawlessly well done. Coupled with every single act and scene, it seems as though the band was the one element doing most of the work, as music was playing though about 80% of the play. Chicago music requires a wide array of instruments to be played, and played well.  From the piano to the tuba it seemed as if each and every note and sound was on key and beautifully played to every mood and atmosphere.  The band – expertly conducted by Choir Teacher and Music Director Edwina Hebert –  deserves to put on a pedestal due to their own merit and enormous talent.
    Lighting was also a good reason the play was so visually appealing. Molding light into the voluminous force it truly is, the spotlighting and stage lighting departments truly lit the show up, and displayed the actors in their truest colors every moment they were on stage.
    Even then there were the numerous bits of Chicago few ever saw. An example being the painted backdrops of the Chicago skyline and musicians that set the scene. Or the costume and make-up departments that dressed the characters to their fullest.  Or the countless hours devoted to the blocking and staging of the choreography, directed by Dance Teacher and Choreographer Carole Fulkerson.  And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the inspired stage direction of Drama Coach and Artistic Director Michael Palmieri, whose relentless dedication to bringing TJ Drama to new heights is now paying great dividends. Chicago was a quiet team effort which resulted in a powder keg of a show.
    This reporter was unquestionably Razzle Dazzled beyond any expectations he may have had before, and he is certainly awaiting any future shows with crazy anticipation.