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Chicago: The Guild does it again

"Welcome. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery - all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.

“Welcome. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery - all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.

The Guild’s new production of the musical Chicago opens strong and never looks back.

Set in the Roaring Twenties - think Prohibition and vaudeville - Chicago tells the story of two “merry murderesses” competing for the public eye from the confines of Cook County jail. Velma, played by Emma Hanes, dreams of using her criminal notoriety to revive her stage career. That’s until she is upstaged by Rebecca Whitcher’s Roxie, who discovers a flair for self-publicity after putting a few bullets into her lover.

Chicago satirizes celebrity criminals and the fickle public that sustain them, not to mention slick lawyers, credulous reporters and hapless husbands. The opening night crowd - with more than a few tuxedos and flapper dresses in the audience - loved the jokes, the snappy one liners and the creative choreography. Without giving too much away, I will say that any long-time Whitehorse theatre-goers need to see the scene involving feather dancing fans and James McCullough’s clothing.

As a production, Chicago has a lot of moving parts that it holds together well: fast-paced musical numbers, a cast of 20, snappy scene changes from jail to one murder scene or another. And a live six-piece band to keep the foot tapping, just like back in the old Chicago clubs.

The music is a lot of fun. Chicago is one of Broadway’s most popular musicals, and you’ll be sure to enjoy classics like All that Jazz, Mr. Cellophane

and When You’re Good to Mama.

The predominantly Whitehorse-based cast is impressively strong, especially when you consider how many roles there are. Hanes and Whitcher are both compelling as competing celebrity villains. McCullough plays flamboyantly shady lawyer Billy Flynn with verve and presence. When he sings about using “Razzle Dazzle” to bamboozle juries, we believe it. And Kaori Torigai does a great job as prison boss Mama, someone you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in a dark Chicago alley. We are fortunate to live in a city with so much theatrical talent.

It is also fantastic to see how many of the players grew up in Whitehorse, starting their budding careers at Wood Street’s Music-Art-Drama program. Jeremiah Kitchen, for example, looks like he has a long stage career in front of him after such a strong and entertaining stage presence as Roxie’s lover Fred Casely.

The direction is by Shane Snow, with choreography by Jessica Hickman and musical direction by Brad L’Ecuyer. All three are from Victoria and obviously worked well, both with each other and the Whitehorse performers, to pull together such a tight and impressive production here in the Yukon.

It’s worth mentioning that we are fortunate even to get Chicago here in the Yukon. Most requests to stage it are refused, and we owe thanks to Guild artistic director Katherine McCallum and her negotiating skills with the suits on Broadway.

After a long winter, it was a real treat to dress up and go out to a live musical. Especially one in an intimate venue like the Guild, where everyone feels like they have a front row seat. The Guild’s Chicago gets two thumbs up and an enthusiastic recommendation from this reviewer.

Chicago runs Tuesday to Saturday until May 4. Get your tickets while you can, at Whitehorse Motors on Fourth Avenue.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.