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Chicago’s 20th anniversary tour a hit

Last weekend I went to see Chicago with my boyfriend at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. I had never seen it onstage before, though I was familiar with the majority of the music. With so many Broadway stars, classic songs, and charismatic performances, I’m glad I saw the musical before the tour moved on.

Directed by Walter Bobbie (Bright Star, Footloose), this tour of Chicago brought many seasoned Broadway actors to the stage to reprise their roles including Dylis Croman (Oklahoma!, In Your Arms), Terra C. MacLeod (The Addams Family, Spamalot), and Paul Vogt (Hairspray, Oliver!).

Croman stars as Roxie Hart, who was easily one of the best performances of the evening. It’s not surprising that Croman crushed her role given that she starred as Roxie on Broadway. Croman shone as Roxie, nailing down Roxie’s narcissism and desperation for fame, even if she has to kill a man and fake a pregnancy to get it.

Another standout performance was that of MacLeod who starred as Velma Kelly. I’ve always loved Velma as a character more than Roxie; she’s just as hungry for fame, but her character oozes an initial confidence that is then shaken by Roxie’s arrival. To watch MacLeod take Velma to heights of vanity and bring her down to self-loathing and confusion was a treat to see.

Of course, Jennifer Fouche (Babes in Toyland, Hairspray) and Vogt were also standout additions to the cast. They played Matron Mama Morton and Amos Hart respectively and were delightful side characters that each had their moment in the spotlight to highlight their onstage personas.

I was particularly taken with Vogt since Amos is such an easily manipulated sap and needs to be won over by the crowd. Throughout his performance, particularly when he asks the orchestra for his background music and is met with silence, Vogt earned several sympathetic “awws.” Vogt has played Amos before on Broadway and he brought the same sympathetic charm, particularly during “Mr. Cellophane.”

The only one who stood out from the others was Eddie George, former NFL player who donned the role of Billy Flynn. He’s played parts in other plays as well such The Whipping Man and Othello, but Flynn was the sore thumb that stood out in a cast of Broadway stars or more charismatic cast members. His voice was drowned out by the music, which was a problem no one else faced, and lacked the confidence his character demands. This was most obvious during “Razzle Dazzle;” the song calls for a much stronger performance and is one of the defining pieces of the entire play. Though, George fell short in a role that was ill-suited for him. This was, in fact, the first thing that my boyfriend and I discussed during the intermission.

Photo Credit // 2015 Jeremy Daniel

The house was nearly packed, but a week or two after I ordered my tickets (in the back of the mezzanine) I was mailed an additional pair of tickets that moved me a few rows closer. Initially I thought they were meant for someone else, but when I brought them to the theatre I was told that my original seats were closed and I was now being moved forward. It was unfortunate to see that some of the seating was closed off, more than likely because of poor sales.

Given that this is Chicago’s 20th anniversary tour, people’s attention may have drawn more so to tough competition like Come From Away, a show that extended their run until February. However, I was surrounded by passionate theatre-goers at Ed Mirvish; the man beside me was quick to voice his disapproval of certain comedic elements to his partner while a woman behind me sang along to 85% of the music.

Regardless, I was glad that I saw Chicago before the tour ended.

The Kinkiest Boots around

“And remember. You are not making footwear. You are not making boots. You are making two and a half feet of irresistible, tubular sex!”

Shoes. I love them. It doesn’t matter how much weight you gain or what mood you are in, shoes will always fit and will ALWAYS look good. A pair of red heels will make your legs look awesome and your bottom…well, I’ll leave the words to describe your own derrière up to you. So, imagine my excitement when my sister approached my family over the holidays with tickets to Kinky Boots, a Tony Award-winning broadway musical entirely about heeled shoes? I was over the moon!

The Toronto Mirvish production of Kinky Boots opened in June 2015, and since then it has been extended three times. The show is inspired by true events and tells the story of a shoemaker’s son, Charlie, who takes over the business and decides to tap into a niche market — making sturdy stilettos for crossdressers. An incredible partnership between Grammy/Tony award-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper and broadway legend Harvey Fierstein ensured the music was sublime and the characters were loveable.

As we settled into our cramped seats — the Royal Alexander Theatre really packs a crowd and doesn’t provide a lot of leg room — I was a bit worried. Our show featured a lot of understudies and the singing during the opening segment was a bit rough and pitchy. I remember thinking that I had hyped up this production so much that it was going to be a disappointment in the end.

Enter Lola (a.k.a. Simon), played by the absolutely incredible Alan Mingo Jr., a show-stopping drag artist that captivated the audience with her confidence and comedy. Seriously, Mingo Jr. could teach me a few things about high kicks and dancing in 8-inch stilettos. Not only does Mingo Jr. have the moves, but he also has the pipes to play this layered character. With energetic toe-tappers like “Sex is in the Heel” to emotionally-draining ballads like “Not My Father’s Son,” his portrayal of Lola was flawless. Any pitch problems from the rest of the cast was made up by his incredible performance.

It was the women who really made Kinky Boots shine. Lola and her band of Angels had the audience hooting and whistling the whole show with their outrageous outfits and ridiculous dance moves, while Lauren (who is Charlie’s love interest and unexpected business partner) left us in awe with her hilarious numbers. What’s even better is that behind all of the hilarity and production, there were some fantastic voices with unbelievable ranges.

Underneath the fancy shoes and the sparkling outfits, Kinky Boots makes us rethink what the word “acceptance” really means. The show reflects the complex nature of gender and the stigma associated not only with drag, but with what it means to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’.  It’s about coming into your own and learning to accept the people around us for who they truly are — a lesson that seems even more important to reiterate in the 21st century. Or as Lola liked to say at the beginning of one of her shows, “Welcome ladies, gentlemen and those who are yet to make up your mind.”

I would highly suggest seeing this musical production before it leaves Toronto in March, but who knows? I’m hoping for a fourth extension!