Review: Chicago at Heritage High School

By Jessica Dallessandro of Oakton High School

Rouge your knees, roll your stockings down, and prepare to be razzle dazzled! Heritage High School’s performance of “Chicago” is jam packed with powerful vocals, a seamless and ingenious set, and a brilliant orchestra that will leave you pining for the world of pre-prohibition Chicago.

Originally created in 1975 by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse (who’s signature choreography is one of the trademarks of the show), “Chicago” is the longest running American musical on Broadway. After a 1996 revival that swept the Tonys, it was transformed into an Oscar winning movie, and has enjoyed several international tours. “Chicago” follows the story of two sparring women, Roxie Hart (Jordan Temme) and Velma Kelly (Emma Leone) on trial for two separate murders. Represented by the same lawyer, notorious shark Billy Flynn (Nick Trusty), the women are treated to fame, glory, and adoration by the media that slips away when the next big story comes along. In time, Roxie and Velma come to understand the fleetingness of stardom, and the importance of “living the life you like.”

Actress Jordan Temme opened with perhaps her best number, “Funny Honey,” and offered a performance that evolved and grew as the show progressed, making for one of the most compelling story arcs of the evening. Actress Jai-Lani Walker (Matron Mama Morton) gave a comically entrancing performance that began with “When You’re Good to Mama” and continued every time she sauntered on stage, portraying a confidence and boldness worthy of the iconic character. Her harmonies with actress Emma Leone (Velma Kelly) during “Class” were stunning, the result of both hard work and raw, natural talent. Emma Leone delivered a dominant and sizzling vocal performance throughout the entire evening, maintaining a high energy and lively facial expressions even through the sultrier, slowly paced numbers. The ensemble of singers and dancers achieved perfect synchronization during even the most complicated of numbers, and elevated the show to another level, oftentimes working as the running crew with a
very large, multi-level set that was flawlessly integrated into the songs. Other highlights include Roxie’s self-deprecating husband Amos (Aiden Carroll) and Hungarian murderess Hunyak (Liz Bentley). All backed by a scintillating pit orchestra, the actors truly did the show justice, addressing every element of its thematic complexity and submersing the audience in the ambiance of an infamous time period.

Adding to the performances were a series of complex, well thought-out technical elements that lent a layer of intricacy to the show. The set consisted of five two-level structures, all on wheels and effortlessly moved around, that acted as prison cells, a courtroom, even a gallows! Heritage made substantial modifications to their lighting system in order to cast bedazzling purple, blue, or red lights during different numbers. However, the dark colors occasionally made it difficult to see the actor’s faces. The sound crew (Aubrey Yokum, et al) had to juggle upwards of 30 individual microphones, and though there were problems with interference and a few buzzing sounds, it was an impressive feat. The show utilized the bare bones of a set, going for a simplistic and minimalist style, allowing the attention to be focused on the singing and dancing.

Despite a few minor technical flaws, “Chicago” at Heritage High School managed to perfectly capture the iconic choreography and raunchy vocals of an infamous show. With an implicit reminder to be happy with who you are, it would be severely unwise to, as Roxie warns, stay away from jazz and the world that Heritage created.

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