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Review: AUTS Presents Chicago the Musical

The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society’s (AUTS) production of Chicago premiered on Thursday, January 22 in Moyse Hall at 7:30 pm. Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, and popularized by the 2002 film starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly and Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart, Chicago tells the story of two enthusiastic young showgirls who compete for the headlines in their quest for stardom. After murdering her extramarital lover, Roxie Hart is sentenced to death row, where she meets other “Merry Murderesses” who strive to prove their innocence in the face of a corrupt criminal justice system. The production was directed by Deborah Friedmann, and produced by Maka Ngwenya, with musical direction by Carolyn Barr.

AUTS did a fabulous job of capturing the essence of the sensuality and glamour of the roaring twenties, and bringing to life the magic of Bob Fosse’s ingenious choreography with stunningly timed dance numbers and classic “Fosse” high kicks and twirls. Director Debora Friedmann gives some background to this interpretation of the musical in the Director’s Note, which highlights the “idea of a feminist take on Chicago set entirely in a 1920’s jazz bar.” Friedmann described Chicago as a “story of murder, greed, violence, exploitation, adultery and all that jazz”, a story dramatized by “seductive mayhem.”

The hit musical is wildly popular and even before director of publicity, Jami Price, ran a largely successful advertising campaign for the AUTS production, there was an enormous amount of excitement surrounding the announcement of auditions. In the Producer’s Note, Ngwenya inmentions that Chicago had “one of the longest audition processes held for a student-run show at McGill,” with “close to 80 auditions.” Prior to opening night, the publicity leading up to the performance included a photo shoot featuring seductive pictures of the two lead actors, Natalie Aspinall as Velma Kelly and Vanessa Drusnitzer as Roxie Hart. The actors, posing in black leotards and heels, appear on posters and flyers that have been circulating throughout campus as well as on social media, including a buzzing Facebook event page, with 1.1k attendees listed as “going.”

With so much hype, the lobby of Moyse Hall was expectedly packed on opening night as doors opened at 7. As the audience took their seats, they were pleasantly surprised by a talented orchestra as some actors filed onto stage with true Fosse attitude, taking their positions for the opening number, “All That Jazz”. While the two female leads, Aspinall and Drusnitzer, each delivered a spectacular performance, the ensemble was truly sensational and provided a solid backbone for the show. With especially notable performances by Nour Malek as Matron Mama Morton in the unforgettable “When You’re Good to Mama”, who delivered a Broadway-grade performance, along with Jessica Eckstadt as Mary Sunshine in “A Little Bit of Good”, a difficult soprano number that left the crowd cheering.

The “puppet-like” choreography in “We Both Reached for the Gun” was a unique while somewhat obtrusive artistic portrayal of the show’s harsh criticism of the press and their role in the corrupt criminal justice system of the era. Billy Flynn, played by Kenny Wong, gave an impressive performance, as did the entire cast, who danced continuously without ever seeming to tire. Oliver Bishop-Mercier played a convincing Amos Hart, in his solo, “Mister Cellophane” which was a hilarious and heartfelt rendition of the classic song, assisted in part by a humorous bit on behalf of the stage crew, where the spotlight “struggled to find” Amos, adding to the entertaining but unfortunate plot point that Amos felt “invisible.”

Overall, AUTS’ Chicago was a memorable performance, which clearly reflected a great amount of time and effort in the rehearsal of every number. Holding true to the play, as well as Bob Fosse’s original choreography, this feminist representation wows the audience with stunning hair and makeup, simple costumes, fantastic lighting, and a tremendous orchestra, not to mention musical numbers that you will be whistling the whole way home.


Chicago will be performed from Thursday, Jan. 29 to Saturday, Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at Moyse Hall. Visit www.autsmcgill.com for more information and to reserve tickets.


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Images by Afram media.



Annie is currently a second-year at McGill University. She is working towards a double major in Spanish and Russian, with a minor in International Relations, and enjoys writing about the experience of being a college student. When she's not in class, Annie also enjoys baking cookies, drinking coffee, and playing guitar.
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