As Broadway’s longest running musical, it is believed that over 30 million people have seen Chicago worldwide. What’s even more impressive about this crowd-pleasing show is just how relevant it remains today, something that was particularly evident in Giggleswick School’s High School production (which was performed from the 24th to the 27th of November). In a corrupt society – where women are overlooked, under-valued, and generally ignored – it was exciting to see the numerous ways in which the female characters of Chicago try to gain power over their male counterparts, refusing to be silenced.
Every single character vies unashamedly for the spotlight, and the simple but highly effective set (designed by Sally Malkin) established this desire for attention immediately: an immense dressing room mirror framed the action, highlighting the fact that every individual is preparing for the performance of their life. A highly performative show, even the stage had frills, and the exquisite costumes heightened the glitz and glamour.
What was evident in this production was just how much every member of the ensemble loved being on stage. Everyone was fully committed to selling the action of the play – even when the action wasn’t focussed on them – and Steph Haighton’s highly impressive choreography was slickly delivered. Particular highlights included We Both Reached for the Gun and the Cell Block Tango, in which each of the girls portrayed vastly different but equally engaging inmates: all described their separate murders with glee (a special shoutout has to go to Rasmus Meyer-Loos who portrayed each of the girls’ casualties).
The production was led by an exceptional group of performers. From the moment Claudia Parravano-Tomasso stepped onstage as Velma Kelly, she held a stillness and focus that told the audience she was in control and knew it. With a voice well beyond her years, her sarcasm and coolness were a joy to watch. Similarly captivating was Sophie Smith’s portrayal of Roxie Hart: an initially unassuming young woman, the audience very quickly learnt she was always planning her next scheme, and the glint in Smith’s eye showcased this with extraordinary subtlety. Both actors complimented each other beautifully as they illustrated the starkly different ways these two women played the system.
Other highlights included an extremely earnest performance from Toby Brown, whose authentic take on Amos Hart left the audience crying out with empathy whenever he left the stage. Ben Kelt’s Billy Flynn oozed sleaze, whilst Briony Moffat’s voice created an impactful entrance (particularly when coupled with some well-timed stair lights). Due to such an extensive roster of talented actors, the majority of lead roles were double cast, highlighting the commitment of the Drama Department to give everybody their moment in the spotlight.
The actors were supported by an impressive and entirely visible band, led by Head of Music Darren Everhart. Having the band onstage and above the action was an inspired choice, a continual reminder of the show’s vaudeville influence and a visually striking set-piece. Even the warm-up felt like part of the action, hinting at the chaos that was to come. The direction from Katie Baskeyfield and Gareth Warburton perfectly encapsulated the structure of the play: a series of “acts” sewn together by a clear narrative of ego and self-obsession.
Ultimately this was a production full of joy and fun, and it was fantastic to see so many actors able to express themselves through song and dance. The large ensemble of predominantly female performers were given an amazing opportunity to feel empowered, and one hopes the audience left the auditorium feeling similarly emboldened and ready to take on the world! Chicago High School Edition more than lived up to Giggleswick School’s impressive roster of highly entertaining – as well as highly professional – productions. A huge well done to all involved!