“You know, some guys just can’t hold their arsenic.”
As two young murderesses battle for vaudevillian limelight while their revenue-driven lawyer manipulates the jury into falling in love with the “innocent,” lovable gals with harrowing tales of survival, it’s difficult to tell if you’re experiencing the debut of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago in Vernon or watching the news.
Despite being based on reporter Maurine Dallas Watkin’s production written and set in Prohibition-era United States, Chicago is now more relevant than ever, representing the darker side of North American culture with the lacklustre justice system in place and growing cults of personality.
And Melina Moore’s Valley Vocal Arts and Big Apple Productions’ double-cast performance, running June 15-24 at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre with Cast Kander and Cast Ebb operating on an every other night rotation, delivered the longest running American musical in Broadway history with such finesse it felt as though you were transported from present day Vernon to Broadway for the 1996 revival.
Cast Ebb’s Keyanna Burgher as Velma Kelly shook the sold-out audience at Powerhouse Theatre June 16 with her powerful triple-threat performance of All That Jazz. It was simultaneously jaw-dropping and worrisome — how could anyone match Burgher’s opening performance?
But they did. Melaney Campbell strolled on stage as Roxie Hart, and it became clear that she too was a force to be reckoned with as she belted out a hilarious and lovable rendition of Funny Honey.
Burgher and Campbell as lead murderesses Velma and Roxie continued in their head-to-head battle, and every time one was felt to be the commanding presence, the other would follow with another perfectly executed hit.
It wasn’t until Burgher and Campbell took the stage together with My Own Best Friend, their voices ebbing and flowing in expertly pitched harmony, that it became clear: neither would be more powerful than the other. They would lead the show together.
Their vocal performances took an already impressive production and made it memorably phenomenal.
As principal characters, Burgher and Campbell are expected to lead the charge. But there were no flops in this production. Everyone, regardless of their role, delivered an exceptional performance.
The operatic delivery by Matron Mama Morton, played by Charlotte Backman, was layered and exceptional. Just as she sang in her introduction— when you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you — Mama certainly was good to us.
Backman’s vocal prowess was put to the test as she sang alongside Burgher in Class, but her voice was remarkable alongside Burgher’s with no vocalist overpowering the other.
Craig Howard as the corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn was a debonair and demanding stage presence best illustrated in his performance alongside Campbell in We Both Reached for the Gun, where Howard controlled Campbell’s every move in a delicately orchestrated puppet/puppeteer bit for the reporters.
Howard hit the mark as the devilishly intelligent puppeteer to Campbell’s surprisingly lifeless — in the best way imaginable — puppet interpretation, to which the crowd went berserk.
Brian Martin executed the role of Amos Hart — Roxie’s weak yet admirable husband — to perfection.
Despite his character being known as Mr. Cellophane, Martin certainly made his presence noted, and drew perhaps the biggest bout of laughter from the crowd with his outstandingly hilarious provocative dance moves as Roxie made him out to be a villain during her trial.
Battling Martin for the loudest uproar was Mary Sunshine, played by E. Veloce. Sunshine is the gullible, cross-dressing reporter that ate up Flynn’s every word during the trial and acted as the megaphone for Roxie and Velma’s perpetual fight for fame.
Everything was not as it seemed, Flynn said as he tore Sunshine’s dress off to the sound of the audience’s uproarious amusement.
Not a beat was missed as the group’s stage performance was backed by a full band, successfully morphing Powerhouse Theatre into Prohibition-era United States. Cast Ebb’s performance was electric, with every note hit and every step made with the sole purpose of putting on a memorable debut of Chicago in Vernon.