Students at Ashby School deliver a knockout performance of Chicago, rising impressively to the challenge of staging this much-loved musical about celebrity and women getting away with murder. A strong central cast, ably supported by a large and talented ensemble, bring great energy to the stage in this criminally good production of the high school edition of the show, directed by Ali Jackson.
‘Chicago’ is packed with memorable musical numbers. A hugely impressive on-stage band, under the musical direction of Catherine Matthews, bring John Kander’s wonderful score to life with precision and energy, from the opening notes of ‘All That Jazz’ to the rousing full-company finale. They create the sounds of the roaring ‘jazz hot’ 20s in style.
Two rival murderesses are at the heart of this story: Amy Weston and Ruby Chadderton deliver winning performances as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, both showcasing strong voices. Ruby Chadderton’s Velma Kelly, a nightclub star serving time for killing her husband and sister after finding the two in bed together, is hard-nosed, sassy and full of attitude. She brings a bold confidence to ‘All That Jazz’ and nails ‘Nowadays’ towards the end of the second act.
Ambitious chorus girl Roxie Hart, who is awaiting her murder trial for shooting the lover she’s been cheating on her husband with, is played with steely strength and quiet rage by Amy Weston. She’s a match for the hard-nosed Velma and there’s excellent chemistry between these celebrity-obsessed inmates as they compete for the media spotlight.
Keelan Bourne’s silver-tongued prince of the courtroom, Billy Flynn, is every inch the showman in his crisp white suit. He razzle dazzles the audience in a swaggeringly confident performance. There’s impressive timing as he pulls Roxie’s strings in audience favourite ‘We Both Reach for the Gun’. Amos Hart, the brow-beaten sap of a husband to Roxy, is played with faithful charm and gullibility by Will Baker. He brings an effective vulnerability to the role and strikes a perfectly despairing tone in a superb rendition of ‘Mr Cellophane’, which is nicely choreographed partly behind sliding screens to highlight his invisibility.
‘When You’re Good to Mama’ is belted out in an impressively soulful voice by Grace Hull who brings a mischievous twinkle to prison matriarch Mama Morton. Sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine is nicely played by James Bakewell, bravely teetering around the stage in heels and fish-net tights and introducing some of the musical numbers in an appropriately amused and sardonic tone.
There’s strong support from Jake Anslow as Roxie’s lover Fred Casely, Rowen Norton as Sergeant Fogarty and the five ‘Merry Murderesses’ (Eve Burland, Zan Page, Katie Massey, Ella Pimperton and Morgan Saunders) who deliver ‘Cell Block Tango’ brilliantly in the first act. Eve Burland is particularly moving as a Hungarian inmate protesting her innocence. Over twenty students make up an excellent supporting ensemble, lining the stairs of the theatre and bringing reporters, dancers and court room observers to life.
The high school edition might offer a slightly tamer version of this raunchy, murderous tale but it loses none of its charm in this winning production. With the belting voices, talent and confidence of students at Ashby School, this is a hugely successful staging of a classic Broadway musical.
‘Chicago’ is playing at Ashby School until Saturday 30th July 2019.