The rise to the spotlight is no easy journey, especially when you’ve got blood on your hands and a life sentence on your neck. Roxie Hart wasn’t exactly ready for what life as a newly convicted murderess would bring her, but with the city’s deceptive shine, was that life ready for her?

Co-directed by juniors Hannah Van Scoy and Quinn Kubistek, ROC Players’ production of Chicago opened with the allure of its ‘20s inspirations; a dark clean set draped in silvery curtains and washed in the sounds of solemn horns. The stage unfolded around the heights of a brightly lit center entrance – a subtle yet crucial choice of the production that thoroughly shaped its visual storytelling.

Throughout the evening, the names on everybody’s lips were those of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, portrayed by sophomore Isabella Briggs and senior Britt Broadus respectively. Through the hazy lens of a criminal conviction, the pair of jailbirds fight tooth and petty nail for their shots at living free and finding stardom in the process. With the help of Matron Mama Morton (sophomore Maggie Beer) and questionable assistance from heartthrob lawyer Billy Flynn (junior Gabriel Pierce), they end up close to where they started –– just with a few more washy morals and a little bit more fame.

The lead performances, to no surprise, were criminally good. While both Briggs and Broadus presented themselves with an appropriate amount of deception and craftiness, the pair’s contrasting approaches lend to what makes them both so compelling. Where Broadus leaned into powerful belts and lower-register power, Briggs approached with the deceptive softness of her upper range;where Velma took power through her connection to the Matron Mama, Roxie feigned a pregnancy, further turning their cycle on the “one-up” game to criminal success. The mastermind behind their stories – that being Billy Flynn — proved captivating to both his jailbirds and the audience, Pierce rocking numbers like “All I Care About is Love” and “We Both Reached for the Gun.” Other feature numbers — most notably Morton’s “When You’re Good To Mama” and Amos Hart’s (portrayed by first-year Brandon Klaff) “Mister Cellophane” — expressed the powerful versatility of the production; how fast the tone could switch from sultry to sympathetic and back over again. 

As a performance, Chicago finds strength in its openness to interpretation – the vaudeville-esque ability to leave a little bit to the imagination (story-wise, of course). The blank slate of a set and ensemble-based narrative allowed the cast to spin through the storyline, leading the audience from Cook County Jail to the courtroom and all around the city. Dressed in sultry blacks, the ensemble’s synchrony was hypnotic –– and absolutely unstoppable when paired with their confidence and class. Even so, deviations from this status quo (such as seen through first-year Kristen Lipp’s impressive drag as Mary Sunshine), brought more unity to the group as a whole. Pairing with the cast’s strength in numbers, the vocal power was complemented by a live pit orchestra, directed by senior Jacob Rose. 

Highlights of the production included the show-stopping rendition of “Cell Block Tango” — an already fantastic piece amplified by the dexterity of the performers and the number’s intricate blocking. Not only was the recurring bit of junior Oren Schwartz’s portrayal of the murder victims done elegantly and with enough humor for laughs and claps across the crowd, but the inclusion of red ribbons to represent each murderess’ kill was tremendously clever. Even further, the representation of Hunyak’s (first-year Lee Fay) innocence through a white ribbon proved an excellent touch — one even more tragic upon her hanging with the same white cloth later in the production. 

As a whole, ROC Players’ “Chicago” was not a production to miss — a wonderfully refined performance of song, dance, and an appropriate amount of murder. To sell out an entire weekend of shows is not only impressive, but thoroughly deserved for what ROC Players cites as their largest show to date. The art of musical theater is not dead here at Rochester, and only time may tell where it goes next. 

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