The Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble brought the crowd to its feet with their impressive rendition of the scandalous and exciting “Chicago,” performed on Oct. 10 and 11 at the Blue Ridge Ballroom in Plemmons Student Union.
The musical adaptation was first written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, premiering in 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre in New York. Now in its 19th year on Broadway, “Chicago” holds the title of the longest running American musical in history.
The musical was adapted into a film in 2002, starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The film won six Academy Awards and three Golden Globe awards.
“Chicago” tells the satirical tale of two murderers, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, as they await their upcoming trials in the height of the 1920s. Kelly is suspected of murdering her husband after catching him in bed with her sister, while Roxie is suspected of killing her lover after she discovers he lied about having the connections to make her famous.
“Chicago” offers a unique perspective into the mind of the criminals, and has the crowd feeling sympathetic for the murderers rather than the victims.
This production strayed from the film’s focus on character storylines and instead showed the involvement that media has in crime cases. Both Velma and Roxie fight for the limelight to help their chances of winning their trials, and to boost their future success after leaving prison.
The two showings were packed, selling out the Saturday night show with 10 tickets shy of a full house at the Sunday afternoon show. Dedicated fans volunteered to stand in the back of the room.
The venue was small, cozy and informal. The show’s music came from a band situated behind the stage. With instruments like the tuba, trombone, piano and bass, they were able to provide the incredible jazz music that the era is known for.
The leading ladies were Savannah Bennett and Michelle Bucci, playing Velma and Roxie respectively. The two sang beautifully, both in their solo performances and duets, and had good chemistry as they fought for the attention of the press and of their scheming lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Another shining character was the overenthusiastic tabloid writer Mary Sunshine, played by Grayson Reith. Her musical number, “A Little Bit of Good,” had the audience roaring with laughter as Reith sang in exaggerated falsetto.
Krystopher Paschen fantastically plays the role of Amos Hart, Roxie’s gullible husband who generates the most sympathy from the audience. In his final exit scene, Amos asked for exit music like many of the characters before him. The orchestra just shrugged, eliciting a loud “aw” from the audience as Paschen exited the stage in defeat.
The cast did a great job of breaking down the “fourth wall” and developing a relationship with the audience, making this a more comfortable and intimate experience. Before the show began, the cast members were in the audience introducing themselves and starting conversations. After the intermission, they opened the second act by bringing audience members to the stage to join in the dancing.
The show was fast-paced and energetic, keeping even those who know the story’s plot eager for the next musical number. The instrumentals, singing and dancing flowed together seamlessly and clever dialogue kept the audience laughing throughout.
The cast and crew put on a performance that would make Kander and Ebb proud. “Chicago” is one of a long list of musicals by the Appalachian Musical Theatre Ensemble that showcases incredible talent from our fellow Appalachian students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
By: Aleah Warner, Intern A&E Reporter