Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Gosford Musical Society. Directed by Toni Williams. Musical Direction: Chris Hochkins. Choreography: Karen Snook. Costumes: Jamie McKenzie. Set Design: Simon Castle. Laycock Street Theatre. October 20-November 11, 2017

It's impossible to start this review off in any kind of 'neutral' perspective, given that, the first community theatre production of any kind this reviewer had ever seen, was opening night of GMS' Chicago in 2002. Aspects of the experience that struck me most were the over-flowingly loving vibe emanating from the audience; how high the production values were in regard to costumes, lighting and set design; and the marvellous diversity of the cast – in appearance and professional abilities. I made twin-resolutions on that occasion; 1: to audition for the very next production and 2: to henceforth support all my local community theatre companies. Fifteen years later and GMS' 70th anniversary program for 2017 (along with Evita and Young Frankenstein) showcased just how dedicated they are, not only to continually maintaining high production standards, while endeavouring to move with the times and present a variety of opportunity for their diverse membership.

My only slight criticism of most community productions in the past (usually kept to myself), have been when shows or plays have been so meticulously put together aesthetically – with big sets and complicated (sometimes laborious) scene changes, which served to highlight every single shortcoming in the rest of the production, particularly in areas such as the consistency of acting performances and providing a clear narrative. The best productions of all are those which reflect a clear and uncompromising directorial vision. The clearer the vision - the stronger the narrative (and usually this equals, better performances).

There is no truer example of this, than this drool-worthy production of Chicago. Thanks to the 2003 Oscar Winning film you'd have to have been living under a rock to not be familiar with this show, so all that's left for this reviewer to do is to appraise this production. The wonderfully minimalist set, sharp and at times spectacular lighting provided a perfect backdrop. The sexy (yet tasteful) mostly monochromatic costumes and judicial use of sequins and more subtle fabric, beautifully set up some eye-popping 'red' moments throughout.

The two leading ladies, Taylor Van Veen (Roxy) and Brodie Anderson (Velma), both genuine triple threats, are outstanding. Rob Hale is debonair and cheeky as Billy Flynn. Strong support from Ruth Tiffen as Mama Morton and Gerard Dunning as MC, while every member of the male and female dancing ensembles were individually charming in their own right. Special mention also has to be made - firstly to Nat Barry Backhouse, who emotionally grounds this notoriously wicked satire of a show with is touching portrayal of Amos Hart, and last but by no means least, the show's notorious wildcard character: Mary Sunshine, played by the vivaciously mysterious 'Catherine Brühl' (whose alter ego was immediately recognisable by any regular GMS member, but you'll get no spoilers from me). Suffice it to say, this performance represents that particular person's tour de force!

All of the 'big' production numbers were stunning: 'Cell Block Tango', 'They Both Reached for the Gun', 'Razzle Dazzle', 'All That Jazz' etc. But quieter solos and duets (particularly ‘Class’) were mesmerising. All credit due to 2002's 'Velma', Toni Williams, whose strong directorial vision undoubtedly made this production so slick. Having just returned from the UK, where I was knocked out by the choreography of Kinky Boots and Matilda, I have to say that Karen Snook's choreography did not suffer one iota by comparison. Musical direction and vocal performances all on point. PS. Note to Fosse, Kander and Ebb, your masterpiece is in safe hands.

Congratulations to GMS on a truly fitting 70th Birthday finale.

Community theatre rocks!

Rose Cooper

Photographer- Troy Snook


©Troy Snook 2017

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