Since early September, the Globe Theatre stage has been transformed into “a noisy hall where there’s a nightly brawl” for its production of “Chicago,” the glitzy, vaudevillian musical set in the 1920s.
Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart, a murderer who manipulates the media, the courts and public opinion to get acquitted.
It often features a large ensemble, sometimes upwards of 30 people, but the Globe production is a 14-actor affair presented in the round. The primary set-piece is a battered, yellow-keyed piano sunk into the stage floor that alternatively serves as a bed, a dance hall and a jury bench. Rapid-fire costume changes transform the actors into glittery flappers, circus performers, drab prison inmates, and colourful journalists from scene to scene.
For actor Olivia Kosolofski, this unique staging provides opportunities for her and her cast-mates to showcase their craft.
“Being in the ensemble, it’s crazy backstage with costume changes and becoming different characters at the drop of a hat, completely changing who you are and what you’re doing,” she said. “Having a smaller cast and a more intimate space gives us freedom to be so many different things.”
These creative choices seem to be resonating with the audience. David Hubick, who attended last Thursday night’s production, identified the use of theatre space as a highlight of his night.
“It was really nice,” he said. “Normally it’s a very big theatrical production, but here it was really nice to have it in a smaller, more intimate setting.”
For director Stephanie Graham, Chicago is just as thematically relevant today as it was when it was first performed. For her, the scene where Roxie’s lawyer writes her a new life story to make her more sympathetic to the press feels especially contemporary.
“Nothing has really changed in 90 years,” she said. “I was just watching CTV news last night, and they have a whole section with the election coverage that’s just debunking election stories that are happening on other networks. And fake news is very much a part of Chicago.”
Ensemble member Natasha Strilchuk thinks Chicago also speaks to our continued fascination with crime drama.
“In the ’20s, celebrity status with criminals was so prevalent – everybody wanted to know who they were,” said Strilchuk. “It didn’t matter what they did, because they were just so exciting.
“These celebrity lawyers would come in and put on a show for them, and I feel like that’s exactly what happens nowadays with true crime.”
Chicago will run through Oct. 6 at the Globe Theatre.