Fri, 15th Nov 2019

Chicago: A mesmerising satire on showbiz

Text by: 

Kimberley Wong

Photo by: 
Just So Society

Of all the places to be transported to, I was not prepared for a Jazz cabaret in Chicago, during an era where female criminals were glamourized. Imagine fishnets, feathers, glitter, liquor, sex – the very picture of moral decay! Perhaps more shockingly, I never anticipated to become so attached to the flamboyant characters who were seemed clearly superficial and self-involved.

The curtains opened on the glitzy ‘Chicago’ sign and a smartly dressed band led by Josh Wood. Although the acoustics of the venue were not the best, the band did their best to blare out the opening numbers and introduce us to the vaudevillian Velma Kelly (Catriona Kadirkamanathan). If the band was smart, then the cast came straight out of the cabaret ready to allure the audience.

Meant as a satire on the homicides committed by women and how the corrupt legal system would allow them to escape justice, the musical follows Roxie Hart (Catriona Ferguson) after she murders her former lover. On her journey to acquittal, she becomes obsessed with her new celebrity status, in the process throwing fellow murderess Velma out of the spotlight.

As someone who has never seen Chicago, I was still aware that the most famous number ‘Cell Block Tango’ would be the highlight of the show – all black lace, sexualised females, and enclosed spaces. I was hesitant to see how it would play out, but was pleasantly surprised by hit after hit, whether it be the sad lament of Roxie’s husband (Elliot Seth Faber) or the hilariously choreographed demonstrations by Velma. The women in this musical were powerful in a way I didn’t expect, being unapologetic and assertive of their desires, but maintained the materialist conventions. Let us not forget the equally impressive men, especially the solos delivered by lawyer Billy Flynn (Coggin Galbreath). The vocals never failed to stun me into silence, even if the content concerned politically charged issues.

The musical is undoubtedly and unexpectedly profound, raising controversial issues which are still prevalent today. Particularly in the last year – with Netflix launching an original film featuring Zac Efron as the serial killer Ted Bundy – public opinion on murder has swayed towards the more sexually charged rather than instant condemnation of the offender. The dangers of publicity are always at hand no matter how self-aware we are, whether it be on our streaming platforms or onstage performing slut-drops.

The actors committed to giving an all-out performance, not letting their persona slip for one second. It almost acts as a comfort to think that none of this is true, that this is all the musical really is: a publicity stunt. In Chicago, you can become a celebrity by committing murder, by cutting off those who love you, by faking a pregnancy. While they seem outlandish, what people can do in pursuit of fame eclipses truth and justice.

In the words of Billy Flynn: ‘You’re a phony celebrity and in two weeks no one will remember your name… That’s Chicago.’ It is a bitter reminder of what a decadent age we have come to.
Though the run of Chicago at the Byre Theatre is only three days, I hope that its impact will outlast two weeks. The story of corruption, deception and – let’s face it – seduction allured the audience, and even if the dancing was not perfect then the ‘razzle-dazzle’ of it all did the job of throwing us back in awe.

’Chicago’ was performed by St Andrew’s ‘Just So Society’ at the Byre Theatre from the 12-14th November 2019. For more details visit: https://byretheatre.com/events/just-so-society-chicago/