Alberta Youth Theatre Collective reviews Ross Sheppard's Chicago

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The Edmonton Journal is proud to host reviews of local high school theatrical productions, written by student reviewers through the Alberta Youth Theatre Collective. Reviews of past shows can be found here

By Emily Yiu
Archbishop MacDonald High School

All the world’s a stage, with our only commonality being the urge to grasp at fame from within our cage. Ross Sheppard High School invited the audience to dive into a capricious age, unveiling a desiccated underbelly adorned with decadence in their rendition of Chicago!

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Written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse with music by John Kander, Chicago is a musical based on a play inspired by two real-life court cases, penned by Maurine Dallas Watkins. As one of the most famous shows on Broadway, it has over ten thousand performances and multiple Tony Awards to its name. The plot follows Roxie Hart (played by Elyn Marcos), a self-centred new prisoner in the ostentatious heart of Chicago. As she meets unscrupulous lawyers and melodramatic prisoners, Hart learns what it means to aspire to become a celebrity criminal.

Mason Chin, playing Amos Hart, did a wonderful job as Roxie Hart’s smitten husband. He perfectly encapsulated the feeling of helpless, one-sided devotion towards Roxie: his expressions of dulcet admiration whenever Roxie was around truly reinforced the reality of his character. Chin also brilliantly fleshed out Amos Hart’s sensation of utter loneliness and isolation; specifically, in his song Mister Cellophane, Chin’s voice rang out with so much emotion that many people in the audience teared up during his performance!

Another person who lit up the stage was Zenon Roessler. As an ensemble member, he always executed his dances with verve, and the near-constant smile on his face was always infectious. His expressions were also funny to look at, such as when he appeared onstage with a bib and imitated the look of a baby by hanging his mouth wide open. From how focused Roessler seemed in immersing himself in the musical, he helped the audience members become more engrossed in Chicago as well.

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Of course, without the tech, there would be no show! The audio was expertly balanced with the music, and the actors’ voice levels were never too loud or too distracting, which was all thanks to the audio crew, Natalie Lam and Brody Pardy. The many cues in the musical were also timed very skillfully! The projections, done by Kat Anderson, Alice Busenius, and Chii Nguyen, served to enhance the show’s ambience and individuality as well. In particular, the timing of the projections in Cell Block Tango made the song even more captivating! The jail cell props also served to intensify this song, and those props (as well as many other props) became a reality thanks to the props team, May McGill and Fern Weimer. Lastly, one cannot forget the stage manager, Ava Rose Graham, and the assistant stage managers, Tailor Cameron and Landen Flamont Baxter, who ensured that the fast-paced show ran as smoothly as clockwork.

As the lights dimmed and the curtains shut, Ross Sheppard’s Chicago plunged the audience back into their own stage—their own play—and left them to ruminate on the transient splendour of that afternoon.

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Ross Shep Chicago
Chicago – Ross Sheppard High School2024 Alberta Youth Theatre Collectivephotos, done by Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. edm

By Marina Shenouda
Mother Margaret Mary High School

How far can an unquenchable thirst for fame take you? Ross Sheppard’s Chicago answers this question in a production full of scandal, revenge, and glory.

Chicago is a musical first released in 1975 with music by John Kander, and playwrights Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb. The story follows Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly after the murders of their respective lovers (They Had it Coming). The two women rise to stardom after imprisonment and lawyer Billy Flynn encourages the murderesses to get the public to sympathize with them. This way, innocence will be easy to feign. However, you can never have enough fame and Velma
and Roxie will do whatever it takes to not be forgotten.

Ross Sheppard’s version of this tale was chock full of talent. Elyn Marcos easily displayed the charm and desperation of the passionate Roxie Hart. Aidan Hopwood who plays Billy Flynn was a highlight of this production. With a sleazy conman character voice and smooth vocals, Flynn simultaneously charmed and sickened the audience. A song where both actors shone is We Both Reached For the Gun where Billy mimes puppetting Roxie in a press interview, the actors were so in sync, you could practically see the strings!

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Chelsea Makwae played Matron “Mama” Morton and lit up the stage in the process! Makwae has a silky voice and brought the matron to life with bold facial expressions and fluid dance moves. Fred Casely, the victim of Roxie’s murder, was played by Parker Douglas. Douglas demonstrated Fred’s shiftiness through a flawless character voice and bold physical choices such as throwing his whole body into creeping across the stage as Roxie recounted the events of his murder. Although Douglas played a ghost for most of his time on stage he livened up every scene he was in.

The visual aspects of the production were stunning. The costumes were detailed and resembled the time period very well. Ensemble members gracefully lifted actors during songs seemingly effortlessly and made the stage look full with constant movement and energy. The set was complete with a meticulously painted floorboard and a projection screen that showed silly news snippets of the characters allowing the audience to feel like they were a part of the story as well.

One song where all the technical elements were at their best was Cell Block Tango. The choreography was impressive, complete with acrobatics, and the red-coloured spotlights strategically conveyed the character’s feelings of violence and passion.

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Ross Sheppard’s Chicago was skillful and loads of fun. The technical and theatrical elements combined seamlessly to present a full stage and give the audience a thrill while watching the scandalous events unfold. The amount of work put into this production could not have been
clearer and the cast and crew should be proud. Bravo!

Ross Shep Chicago
Chicago – Ross Sheppard High School2024 Alberta Youth Theatre Collectivephotos, done by Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. edm

By Lynette Tom
Mother Margaret Mary High School

A killer spin on jazzed up justice! Murder, music, and merry mayhem! Welcome to a delightfully murderous production put on by the Ross Sheppard Performing Arts Theatre! A spectacularly homicidal show about two death-row murderesses in a fierce rivalry for publicity and fame. Chicago, a musical by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, delves into the roaring twenties of Chicago, focusing on the story of two women, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who are both in prison for murder. Although this specific rendition was the teen version, not many changes (exclusions of certain songs and language) were made and the show stayed true to its original. The plot follows their antics to gain fame and freedom, manipulating the media and legal system with the help of their charmingly slimy and sleazy lawyer, Billy Flynn. The show is a well-done satirical take on the chase of fame and the corruption of the criminal justice system, featuring catchy songs and dynamic dance numbers that bring the era to life on stage.

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The skilled cast of the production made the audience feel as if one was truly in the roaring twenties at a jazzy speakeasy. Elyn Marcos, playing Roxie Hart was amazing at her role, hitting every note and really pulling you into the production. Hart’s practiced innocence and doe-eyed expressions really brought justice to the character. Chelsea Makwae, playing Matron “Mama” Morton is another splendid mention. Her song When You’re Good to Mama was definitely a fan favourite and Makwae was a perfect fit for her role. The way she embodied her character was so lovely and not something soon forgotten. Billy Flynn, our favourite sleazebag lawyer played by Aidan Hopwood, was endearing and hilarious. The actor’s portrayal of Billy Flynn was charismatic and cunning, capturing the character’s slick charm and manipulative wit!

The technical elements of the production were nothing short of outstanding, really elevating the show. The lighting design was incredibly impressive, seamlessly enhancing the mood and atmosphere of each scene with its strategic use of colour and intensity. The set design was equally remarkable, effortlessly pulling the audience through to the jazz-infused world of 1920s Chicago. The props and set all had a purpose and there was no evident clutter on the stage. Each and every single thing brought on stage had its own purpose and was used excellently. The costuming was remarkable and its coordination for every number really elevated the show. Combined with the backtrack meticulously practiced to be perfectly in time, the technical elements of the show were truly a sight to behold, adding depth and dimension to an already extraordinary production.

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Chicago: Teen Edition by Ross Sheppard Performing Arts Theatre was excellent and captivated audiences with its timeless story, unforgettable music, and talented cast. The opportunity to watch this amazing production is not one to pass on, and definitely will not be soon forgotten!

Ross Shep Chicago
Chicago – Ross Sheppard High School2024 Alberta Youth Theatre Collectivephotos, done by Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. edm

By Jack Suitor
Mother Margaret Mary High School

Glamour, Glory, and Gunshots. A night of singing, dancing, and… “justice.” Audiences gathered at Ross Sheppard High School to see their take on the classic musical Chicago. Doing such a popular show, expectations were extremely high, but to the audience’s satisfaction expectations were met and exceeded in a performance like no other.

Chicago: Teen Edition follows the original story quite closely: A woman named Roxie Hart gets imprisoned for killing a man who promised her success in showbiz just to swindle her. She spends the rest of the musical working with her pushover husband Amos, warden Matron “Mama” Morton, sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn, and rival showgirl and murderess Velma Kelly to become popular enough to sway the jury to not hang her. Chicago is a story about celebrities and the sway the media has in society. By controlling her public perception, Roxie gets away with murder and becomes a star in the process.

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The actors of Ross Sheppard High School deserve all the credit in the world for their performances. The ensemble was top-notch, always making sure there was life on the stage without ever stealing the limelight. Their cohesiveness and interactions made it clear that they all trusted each other and had each other’s backs. Speaking of trust, Mason Chin gave such a convincing performance of the meek Amos Hart that he had audiences nearly crying at the end of Mister Cellophane. Aidan Hopwood gave the audience an excellent portrayal of the slimy lawyer Billy Flynn. Hopwood’s performance with Elyn Marcos (Roxie Hart) in the song We Both Reached For The Gun left audiences either speechless or giving hushed whispers of acclaim to their neighbours. Sophie Dufault (Mary Sunshine) and Chelsea Makwae (Matron “Mama”) both deserve the highest praise for their excellent singing in A Little Bit of Good and When You’re Good to Mama respectively. Dufault hit notes higher than the tallest skyscraper with perfect control, and Makwae’s power and fluidity in her singing left audiences entranced.

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No production is complete without technical elements, and Ross Sheppard does not lack for excellent crew members. Stage manager Ava Rose Graham, and Assistant Managers Tailor Cameron and Landen Flamont Baxter had their work cut out for them with such a large cast, but they managed perfectly without any detracting issues. Audio is extremely important in a musical, and Natalie Lam and Brody Pardy made everything go off with barely any hitches. The music also came from tracks, which made it a lot more impressive for the crew and cast to work with, remembering every little sound cue and entrance. The projections on the stage done by Kat Anderson, Alice Busenius, and Chii Nguyen added to the performance greatly. Although it would have been excellent to see more than dummy text in the actual news stories, their work on headlines and photos made up for it and then some.

This show was an absolute pleasure to watch. The hard work and dedication from February to May was apparent. Ross Sheppard is definitely a place to go to see high school theatre in one of its best forms.

Ross Shep Chicago
Chicago – Ross Sheppard High School2024 Alberta Youth Theatre Collectivephotos, done by Darla Woodley of Red Socks Photography. edm

By Jinminghao Zhao
Archbishop MacDonald High School (Alumni)

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In a city where the people find jazz hot but murder even hotter, hitting rock bottom might actually just be an opportunity to rise to stardom. In Ross Sheppard High School’s sizzling production of Chicago, the narrative follows the protagonist, Roxie Hart, who is put in such a position after killing her secret lover. With the help of lawyer Billy Flynn, Hart’s story soon becomes Chicago’s newest hot topic, and with it, a chance to revive her dreams of vaudeville.

Set in the titular city during the Roaring 20s, Chicago is based on a true story, and is just as much a commentary on the sensationalization of controversy as it is an iconic piece of musical history. In Ross Sheppard High School’s case, their cast and crew delivered a spirited and captivating performance that more than lived up to the musical’s reputation.

As Roxie Hart, Elyn Marcos was an immediate stand-out. Marcos’ expressions and tone perfectly conveyed the fame-seeking diva side of Hart that lay behind her innocent demeanour, resulting in a portrayal that was consistently a joy to watch. With her fluid body language and effortless confidence, Chelsea Makwae as Matron “Mama” Morton was another scene-stealer. Her immersion in the role was eye-catching in every number she was in, but especially in the song When You’re Good to Mama where Makwae’s sultry and transactional character was vibrantly brought to life. Aidan Hopwood’s dedication to his part as Billy Flynn was evident as well, with Hopwood’s cadence, in particular, helping Flynn’s contemptible yet charming personality shine through with every line delivered. Another noteworthy performance came from Casper Noel who played Tamia (Billy Flynn’s nasally-voiced secretary). Noel had great comedic timing which led to the showcasing of a short-lived yet memorable dynamic between Noel and Hopwood’s roles.

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The teams working on the technical aspects of the musical were also integral to transporting the audience back to an age where sin and indulgent glamour were all the rage. Thanks to Faith Wong (who was in charge of lighting) and the stage management team (led by Ava Rose Graham with Tailor Cameron and Landen Flamont Baxter assisting), lighting cues were always executed flawlessly. These precise lighting changes added drama to the musical numbers and often left the audience in eager anticipation of what the next song would bring. Projections, which were handled by Kat Anderson, Alice Busenius, and Chii Nguyen, brought an interesting pizzazz to the show, with an example being the newspapers detailing headlines after scenes where the press appeared. This not only built upon the atmosphere of the musical, but also highlighted the critique the play makes on the media’s obsession with criminals and turning gruesome crimes into sensational stories.

With compelling performances by the cast and a disciplined tech crew, Ross Sheppard High School’s production of Chicago was one that both razzled and dazzled the audience.

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